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Jul 222014
 July 22, 2014  Posted by  Back to school, College, Family, Features, Hot Deals, Shopping
college textbooks

College students, as well as their parents, can experience sticker shock when they shop for textbooks. Books for a full schedule can easily add up to $1,000 or more a year. I asked my daughter, a rising junior who is the most resourceful and thrifty textbook shopper I know, for some tips.

One thing I learned is that the absolute worst place to purchase a textbook is usually the campus bookstore. To compare costs, she uses the textbook from an introductory psychology class that many students take. ISBN 9781133939061, Psychology: Themes and Variations, Briefer Version.  At the University of North Carolina campus book store (Go Heels!)  it was $182.35 new, $136.75 used. Keep in mind that all the prices below were accurate when this was written but will change frequently, especially for used books. Here’s what she says:

  1. Email your professor before the class starts: Ask what textbook will be used for the class. That gives you a jump start over the other students looking for the cheap books.
  2. Consider international editions: Same content, but they are usually paperback and made with thinner paper, with a different cover. Sometimes the page numbers are off or the chapters are out of order, but I’ve never had a problem with it so far. Shipping may be more expensive. On Abebooks, an international edition is $107.45.
  3. Try eBooks: Depending on where the textbook is from, an eBook may work on a Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Android or it may be available as a PDF. This allows you to search for words and you can avoid carrying around heavy books. I can’t use them because I get distracted too easily, but I know a lot of people do. At, $34.41.
  4. Used books: Always a simple option, unless you’re vehemently against marks in your books that you didn’t make yourself. On Amazon, $110.
  5. Loose leaf: This is sometimes an option, but probably not for larger books since binders only get so big. Also, I doubt it’s possible to sell back loose leaf books to places like Valorebooks and Chegg, but I’ve seen people selling loose leaf books on the school’s Facebook pages with no problem. At, $95.49.
  6. Earlier edition: Textbooks are often updated every few years, sometimes with minute changes. Some professors may insist that you use the most recent edition, so it’s best to check with them beforehand. On Amazon the used, paperback version of the 8th edition is $4.05.
  7. Renting: If you don’t need to write or highlight in your books, renting can be an option, although I think it’s a pain to have to worry about returning books right after finals. Rent on for $29.99.
  8. Sell back:
    • Buy, rent, and sell back. The site covers shipping when you sell books back. All you have to do is enter in the ISBNs of the books you’re selling back and print out a packaging slip and shipping label to ship them. PSYC 101 new $179.79, used $114.42, rent $35.54. Sell back PSYC 101 for $90.42.
    • Buy, rent, sell back, eTextbooks. Also has free shipping for selling books back. Chegg also gives you seven days free use of the eTextbook while you wait for your book to ship. PSYC 101 new $149.99, used $116.99, rent $38.49, eTextbook $38.49. Sell back for $74.25.
    • Has free shipping for selling books back, but pays with Amazon gift cards. New $141.90, used $110, rent $38.48. Sell back for a $114.54 gift card.
  9. Facebook: If the school is pretty big and has active Facebook groups, people post books to sell and books they’re looking for at the beginning and end of semesters, as well as around the drop/add deadline. This is an easy way to get books for popular classes without using credit cards or paying for shipping.
  10. Google: The easiest way I’ve found to buy textbooks is just to Google the ISBN and look at the results under the Shopping tab. Your results may include some lesser known sites, which is good for less popular classes. I got my Hebrew textbook by Googling and finding it at the Jewish Museum.

I’ll add one more thing to my daughter’s suggestions. OpenStax College makes available free textbooks for viewing online or as a PDF on your computer. More than 200 colleges and universities are now using OpenStax for textbooks. If you or your child is attending one of these schools, make sure to check this out.

Jody Mace

Jody Mace is a freelance writer who has written for publications like O Magazine, Washington Post, and Parents. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and two teenaged kids. Her colleagues are dogs named Harlow and Shaggy. She publishes Charlotte on the Cheap and takes the “cheap” seriously. For fun she plays mandolin and browses at her local Goodwill Store, where she is “Foursquare Mayor,” as long as that Russell G. doesn’t steal it from her again. You can see her celebration of thrift store finds at Thrift Wrecks.

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