A Comprehensive Guide: How to Save Money on Textbooks

By Samantha Brockschmidt  •  January 15, 2014

College is a huge expense for many. While it may be the biggest investment in some futures, it is also one of the biggest pains for some bank accounts. To top it off, the accrued cost of student expenses is only getting bigger.

Typically, the way it works is that community college is cheaper than CSU’s which are in turn less expensive than UC’s which lead to graduate schools taking the biggest bite. This chart shows a rough estimate of several campus tuitions for students having near-residency status and attending school full-time. USC, while as highly renowned as UCLA, has the same tuition for both undergraduate and graduate studies. However, when students delve into specific graduate programs at USC, tuition increases further. The numbers as follow are per semester, undergraduate/graduate studies, for each campus’ individual 2013/2014 catalog:


  1. CSUN - $3,260/$3,893
  2. UCLA - $14,992.37/$15,288.38
  3. USC - $22,801/$22,801
  4. CSULB - $3,210/$3,843


Financial aid only helps so much. Accepting to attend a university is only the beginning tank in your wallet. Next is the price of textbooks. During one of my college semesters I remember spending roughly $500 on textbooks. When I attended community college the first two years, I was provided a grant for $500 which covered most of my textbooks, tuition, and parking fee. That “cc” grant, called “The Bog”, disappeared upon entering Cal State University, Northridge. I received loans thereafter but knew I was going to be $20,000 in debt in a couple years. Now, I am planning on attending graduate school and I know if I do, I’m going to jump right back into that rapid buy-and-sell textbook marketplace. There are few tips that helped me along the way, though, with which I want to impart wisdom on to future collegiate minds. Here is a comprehensive guide for how to save money on textbooks.


Slow Down. You Only Got Four Years.

There are tons of sites created for helping students save money, not catching them in a financial trap—so hold your horses. Sites like promocodes.com offer huge savings for students wherever they may decide to pursue their education. The people behind this savings site have expertise on shopping smart and they partner with top merchants to provide a wider selection for shopping textbooks. Students who start here can find coupons up to $10 off select textbooks from eCampus.com and textbook discounts up to 97% off at Half.com.

There is no need to buy your textbook right away. Teachers usually don’t have assignments you cannot do from notes within the first few weeks of class, and when it comes time to take the test, books get cheaper. I know because I am an expert at saving money during school and am as much a seller as I am a buyer! Trust me when I say that buyers profit when sellers get antsy, and vice versa. That is why I lower my prices further along the semester because buyers get anxious and my book degrades in value. I refuse to buy a book early on if I can hold out. There’s bound to be one person in the world trying to make an easy buck.


Sellouts Never Prosper

Set your price in the middle of competitors. Finding a great deal is as wonderful as giving one. Don’t price low because you’re afraid. It’s better to wait than lose your profit margin. I learned quickly that I can oust the competition by buying cheap and selling high to maintain a steady flow in incremental pricing. I learned from my dad who, not only is a genius when it comes to real estate, but knows exactly how to wait out competition in any market. He mused with buying and selling textbooks throughout his graduate studies, and it worked.


I started doing the same, and while the profit can be a hit or miss, usually you nail it. I often found myself profiting anywhere from $20 to almost $100 each semester because I didn’t sellout and was patient. I priced my books early for about 20 to 50 percent higher than I purchased them (but also about 20 to 50 percent lower than a lot of competitors). Sometimes I sold at a high price, other times I got nothing. Sometimes the value of a used book goes down to a dollar, which if that’s the case, I found it more satisfying to donate or hold onto them. Usually, when people get desperate for a book that is when you sell—but it is always best to set a competitive price early and sell out quickly! I used sites like Amazon.com and eBay.com to get the most for my money.


Use the Buddy System.

Sharing is one of the easiest and biggest money savers when it comes to buying textbooks. One of my biggest peeves was having to buy a book my professor “wrote” for self-profit. It sucks, but usually the professor throws in one or two important pages that are mandatory to get a good grade, and it leaves you purchasing the whole damn book which you never really needed in the first place.

Try to find a friend, family member, or even classmate that you trust where you two can buy the book together. You can scan copies of the needed pages or study together which helps many people get better grades anyway. Whether it is taking turns copying a chapter while the other uses the book at home or emailing worksheet pages to your “buddy” before an assignment is due, the buddy system truly helps you save money.


Break Your Wallet When It Counts

Hold off on buying your textbooks as long as you can. Most teachers keep a copy for reserve in the library. This allows students to check out the textbook when they need to for a couple of hours. You can photocopy any page you want or find information you need for a paper at absolutely no cost to you.

There are also international textbook editions. I stumbled upon one of these by accident. I did not read the ISBN number on the back of the book as carefully as I should have and found myself with a copy published from some foreign country. While it is a good idea to get your professor’s approval of these editions, you can usually find the exact same information in these textbooks but in different chapters. Sometimes the chapter you are supposed to study in the normal textbook is one or two chapters ahead or behind in the international edition, but that little bit of reading is only going to help you study and, of course, save you a ton of money.            

The most important part of buying and selling textbooks, though, is finding the right source of information. Customers can get free shipping at Textbooks.com on orders over $25 (which as many students know is easy to spend) and a return policy within 30 days of purchase. To me, this is a great concept because shopping from individual sellers on eBay or Amazon is easy but also time-consuming if the seller’s shady. When a seller’s dishonest about the book’s edition or quality, usually you are protected, but filing a complaint is a long process, and as a student, you don’t have a lot of time for book shopping.





Textbooks.com also offers a huge seller market and discounts for avid textbook buyers. There is 50 percent guaranteed cash back on many titled books and savings up to 90 percent off on a wide selection of desired reads. You can rent or purchase used textbooks and ebooks if you are really looking to save quickly or you can contact their support team to help you buy the right book. Sellers can also set their own standards knowing they have access to a wide marketplace. There is also fast delivery when you need it.

Buy, sell, and utilize your shopping knowledge to make better purchases. Saving on college textbooks prepares you for less debt by educating you on how to properly manage your personal finances. Simply put it in terms that benefit you—when you save, you have more to further that education you invested in.

Samantha Brockschmidt Samantha Brockschmidt Samantha Brockschmidt is passionate about adventure and writing. With her B.A. in Communication Studies and Marketing, her career has only just begun! This adrenaline guru is learning just how fast-paced LA really is, and she cannot wait to share it all with you!

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