5 Tips for Cutting Textbook Spending in Half

How to slash textbook prices by half

By: Kevin Walker

I was able to spend less than $500 on textbooks total completing two master’s degrees. How? I bought and resold my textbooks online. I also only bought supplemental materials, and often the textbooks themselves, after checking in with my professors about which materials were absolutely necessary (some materials are referred to lightly and/or can be more easily shared).

I avoided renting textbooks because there’s no resale value. However, renting textbooks has gotten cheaper in recent years and can be done for shorter time periods.

To use an improved version of my strategy to reduce textbook costs by thousands over the course of a four-year degree, try these tips:

Verify textbook and book requirements with professors.

Before class begins, ask your professor for the syllabus. After checking the textbooks and required materials list, ask how often the main textbook will be used and if an older version works as well. Often, there isn’t much of a difference in instruction between two versions of the same book. However, there can easily be a 50 percent price difference.

Finally, ask what supplemental materials are needed. For instance, you may need additional textbooks, regular books, or software. If there is a digital code in the book that you’ll need to use, you’ll look for a used textbook online where the code hasn’t been used yet. How do you find out if the code has been used?

You can ask the seller. When I bought textbooks online, I’d message the seller on Amazon or eBay and ask if the code was used if the professor said it was necessary. They’ll likely know. If they didn’t, I didn’t buy it.

Rent when needed, but only in short spurts.

Renting textbooks for a whole semester is generally a waste of money. You can’t resell a rental, so whatever you spent is gone.

However, there are companies such as iflipd that offer textbook rentals for one week. The cost will be low enough that it will make up for the time and expense of buying and reselling a textbook. Only do this when you are positive you will only need the book for a week. Also, make sure you will receive it in the time you need, especially if it’s for studying for a midterm or final exam.

Ask about price matching software or technology.

You may need software or technology for coursework. Most companies such as Microsoft and Adobe offer student pricing. Student Advantage is a discount card I used in college that helped me save on a wide variety of products.

What helps me the most now and worked in college is searching for promo codes online before purchases. I also ask for price matches. For instance, whenever I shop at Target or an office supply store, I search online for a promo code, buy the item online, and select pick up in store. My purchase is generally ready in an hour or so for pick up.

At Best Buy, I go in person to find what I need. Then, I do a quick search on Amazon to see if the price is lower. Then, I show the Amazon price at the register. I recently saved a few dollars on replacement chargers and headphones for my iPhone. Price matching has also helped on sound recorders and various other technology.

Buy used equipment and supplies.

Depending on your major, equipment may be more important than textbooks. For instance, for photojournalism students, their cameras are everything. A friend of mine bought a camera from an editor she admired on Instagram when she saw the photo of the for sale item on her feed. She paid $750 for a $1,600 camera and made an industry contact. She may have been able to get a better deal from a former student posting flyers at school or through sites such as OfferUp.

 5 Key Takeaways:

  • You can cut thousands off of your cost to graduate with a 4-year or graduate degree by buying and selling textbooks online.
  • Only rent textbooks when you need for a week or less. Otherwise, you’ll cost yourself money by not being able to resell textbooks.
  • Ask your professor questions before the start of the semester about which books are used and how often.
  • Always ask if you use older editions of textbooks.
  • Save money on tech and equipment through a strategy combining promo codes, matching prices, and buying used equipment.