How to save money on textbooks

Buy, rent, share, inquire — and do your homework

College is expensive, and so are textbooks.

“The more specialized the field, the more expensive the textbook can be,” said AJ Goldman, general manager of required materials at Chegg Inc., a company that, among other services, sells and rents textbooks to college students. “We have seen students — if they are buying new — drop well over $1,000 if they are taking a full course load.” The average list price of a new accounting book is about $250, he added.

It’s no surprise, then, that students are looking for ways to save money on textbooks. Here are a few methods to try to keep books from busting your budget:

Talk to faculty before you go book shopping. Your campus bookstore has many materials to sell or rent, but you may not need them all. Ask your professor to specify which books are actually required before you buy, said Steven Filling, Ph.D., professor of accounting at California State University, Stanislaus.

Goldman advised checking with professors to see whether you need the most recent edition of required books, or if you “can get by with an older version.”

To save costs, buy used or rent. Used books and book rentals are available on many websites, including Chegg, CampusBooks, Barnes & Noble, VitalSource,, and others. Buying used books will save you 30% to 90%, Goldman said, and renting books versus buying new can often save you 85% or more. Most college students are well-aware of these options, he added.

Used and rented books do have a few disadvantages. Used books may be marked up upon purchase, but you may find the savings are worth it. Rental books need to be returned, most often at the end of the semester. This can be a problem if you like to hang on to your textbooks, but it can be a good option otherwise. And students need to take care of their rental books, since they will be returned, either to the rental company or their college bookstore. “We are OK with highlighting, underlining, etc., as long as it’s within reason, and wouldn’t harm another student’s use of the book later,” Goldman said. “After all, you wouldn’t trash an Airbnb or rental car, but we also want our customers to use books for their intended purpose — to learn.”

Online rentals also come with expensive shipping costs, which vary widely depending on the rental company, Goldman noted. Electronic books are also available for purchase or rent, and may cost slightly less than printed versions.

Shop around. Don’t just visit your campus bookstore. Websites and other brick-and-mortar stores in your area may offer cheaper options. When shopping online, pay attention to shipping costs, and the reputations and return policies of the sellers.

Share with other students. Though it can be logistically challenging to create a workable schedule, consider sharing a textbook — either new or used — with fellow students or friends. This will help cut costs, and can even help you get to know other students, Filling said.

Tap free outlets. Your college library may have one or two copies on hand of the required textbook, which you can check out for typically two to three weeks, or in some cases longer, Filling said. As a courtesy to his students, Filling buys two copies of the textbooks used in his classes and puts them on reserve. In addition, he suggested, see if your books are available on open source educational websites that offer free materials for students, such as Merlot and Cool 4 Ed, sites run by the California State University System.

Secure books early. Don’t drag your feet when buying or renting books. Try to buy early to avoid the rush and competition. “Prices tend to increase later in the semester as supply begins to run out,” Goldman said.

By Cheryl Meyer

Cheryl Meyer is a California-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, senior editor of newsletters at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

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