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The Ultimate Guide to Saving Money on College Textbooks

Saving money on college textbooks is hard, but it's not impossible. Here's how to do it without failing class.

I really, truly believe that college has become a form of highway robbery. As much as we're told "you need college to succeed," we also need college to be affordable. I'm all for free education and student loan forgiveness programs, primarily because we need educated people in this country. 

With the price tag that currently rests on college students, I often wonder if having a degree is really worth it. Many of us do. For most, yes, it is necessary and worth the value. 

For the students who want to learn, I salute you and want to help you out. Sadly, short of the school system getting rocked by Congress, tuition won't be decreasing any time soon. At the very least, school books can be a little cheaper. 

This guide to saving money on college textbooks will help you out. Here are my favorite hacks, as someone who has dealt with the college system a little bit too much. 

Get a good catalogue of second-hand textbook sales sites.

The number one rule for saving money on college textbooks is to buy it online, ideally, used. College bookstores are absolutely, positively awful when it comes to price-gouging and there's really no reason to go to one unless you absolutely have to. 

If you have to buy the book for a class, do your best to avoid college stores. Online stores like Chegg and eBay Books are great for finding textbooks that have all the info you need with none of the bloated price tags. 

Find out how many books you need before you register.

Saving money on college textbooks is one of those things where an ounce of foresight is worth a crapton of money. What I'm saying is that you should look for college courses that have a minimal amount of mandatory textbooks.

Though this isn't always the case, many universities will post how many books will be needed in order to take the class. Moreover, if you ask college professors about the books ahead of time, they will often tell you point blank. 

Use Student2Student.

One of the more creative ways to save on college textbooks is to use an app or a website to swap textbooks with someone on campus. Chances are that there's at least one person on campus who is looking for a book you bought last semester. You might as well exchange it if you can. 

Book rentals are a good option, too.

Sometimes, it's better to rent than it is to buy. This is doubly true if you're hellbent on saving money on college textbooks and don't want to have to resell them for $2 at the end of the semester.

Plenty of sites offer affordable book rentals that will shave off dozens of dollars from a typical used textbook price. Once you're done with the book for the semester, just return it and you're good to go.

Fans of the no-stress college lifestyle will probably love book rentals as an option, simply because it's a lot more upfront and you don't feel like you're being cheated. 

Pressure your school system into having courses with fewer books.

I'm not saying that this is an immediate solution. However, it's getting to the point where we all need to stand up against the price gouging that's going on. 

If you want to help other students that are struggling with saving money on college textbooks, it may be time to talk to the university faculty about the prices. I personally would suggest getting the student body involved and also contacting state representatives. 

The more noise you make, the more likely it is to succeed. 

Time your purchase.

You shouldn't buy your supplies unless it's after the first week or so of the class, unless you're okay with not saving money on college textbooks. During the first week, two things will happen:

  1. People will drop the class and send back their books.
  2. You will find out which books are really mandatory.

Both will lead to price drops, big time.

You also might find that you're better off studying abroad.

Here's something kind of shocking. Depending on where you choose to study, you could be saving money on college textbooks, tuition, room, and food. That's right—leaving the country so that you can get a degree is often cheaper and better than staying stateside. 

Sad? Yes. But, what can you do? When you can get a free college degree in 44 of the best universities in Europe as an American, it doesn't make sense to stay in the US for your education. 

Pair up with a classmate.

If you're dead set on staying stateside and are looking at saving money on college textbooks, you might want to consider pairing up with a classmate or two. To use this method, photocopy what you need from everyone's books—or just take a photo with your tablet.

If you pool books with one another for a variety of classes, you will be able to pay less on textbooks without sacrificing the knowledge that you would gain from reading it. 

Switch to a college with open source texts.

Are you sick of seeing college textbook companies price gouge students? I am, too—and so are a number of colleges! As a result of many college textbooks coming with activation codes that render the book useless after one semester, some colleges fought back with open source textbooks. 

Open source means free. That's one word everyone wants to hear when saving money on college textbooks!

Finally, consider checking out older versions if it's possible.

Not all textbooks can be bought and used if it's an older edition. This is especially true with STEM courses. College textbooks are terrible like that, and it seems like all the personal finance tricks in the world can't always help.

However, if you're lucky enough to find a class where you can use an older edition, by all means, sign up. It's cheaper and will make saving money on college textbooks for the class a cinch.

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