Keep Your Child Out of Debt – Alternative Options to Save Big on Textbooks

The following guest post was submitted by Austin of Foreigner’s Finances.

Many parents question how to bring up the subject of finances with their children. Some don’t want to sound, “uncool” but being worried about how financially ready your child is for the real world is normal. There are many financial lessons a parent can teach a child, but where does one begin?  This concern tends to pop up the most during this time of year, as children are leaving home for the first time and moving into college dorm rooms across the country.

After graduating from college in June, I have narrowed down my college experience to just one tip I wish my parents would have taught me before I left for school four years ago.

Don’t limit yourself to only buying textbooks from the college bookstore.

According to the Washington Post, “students at four-year schools spent, on average, about $900 for books and supplies in 2003-04“. This is not an amount the average 18-year-old can handle without diving into credit cards, and we all know this is a dangerous habit for young people.

Luckily, there are a wide range of options available to students on college campuses for accumulating textbooks at cheap prices. Prices that are repeatedly 50-90% cheaper than the bookstore. During my time in college, I only bought books from the bookstore my first semester of school and whenever it made financial sense. During 4 years, I saved over $2000 by avoiding the bookstore’s outrageous prices and using a variety of alternative methods to get textbooks.

3 steps that must occur for a student to save thousands on textbooks during college

1)  They must use their schedule and visit the campus bookstore’s website before school begins to see which books they will be needing for the semester. Too many students blindly walk into the bookstore on the first day of class and pay whatever price is listed on the book.

2)  Once the student knows which books they need, they can explore the variety of options available to college students for getting textbooks. Utilizing, public libraries, and book swaps are just some of the ways students can find textbooks for prices that are often 50% cheaper than the bookstore. See my two favorite tips for getting textbooks below.

3)  Students must sell their textbooks at the end of the semester. Too many students keep their Biology 101 book because they think they might need to reference it at a future date. Chances are they won’t and if they do, the information can be found elsewhere. As soon as the semester is over, have the student sell their books online to maximize their value before a new edition comes out.

The 2 Steps that Saved me Over $1500 in College

In my e-book, Save Thousands on Textbooks, I released the 8 steps I used to save money on textbooks in college. Here are the two steps that made up 75% of my savings.

Interlibrary Loan

Every college belongs to an interlibrary loan system that connects its library to other libraries in the state. Even though I went to college with just 2,500 people, my library had access to over 73 libraries in the state, including huge universities. Every semester, I would check the interlibrary loan to see if they had any of the textbooks I needed for class. Almost every semester I would receive 2-3 textbooks from some random library in my state and this would provide me with hundreds of dollars in savings every time. For more information on how exactly to work the interlibrary loan system at your school, check out Step 3 in my e-book.

Get the Edition Down

Many students cringe at the thought of getting the wrong edition textbook for their class. I did too, until I saw two editions of the same textbook next to one another. Besides a new cover, the 2 differing editions were the exact same book! These textbook companies are pretty lazy and this happens almost every time with new editions of textbooks. Occasionally, a chapter is flipped or an image is different, but nothing significant is ever changed from one edition to another.

Once your student has this knowledge, they can either search for lower editions on interlibrary loan, or purchase them on or

Need to see the savings to believe it?

As of August 15, 2009 the 14th edition of Smith and Robertson’s Business Law cost:

$142 on Amazon.

And how much did the 13th edition cost?


Getting the edition down will help your child save hundreds of dollars every semester.

By learning these textbook saving tips before entering college, your child should be able to avoid credit card debt and keep the money they’ve work hard for, in their bank accounts. Teach them a lesson that counts; teach them to save.

Editor’s note: I have a couple friends who have had success renting textbooks from  One even referred to it as the “Netflix of textbooks.


  1. Yes, you must sell your books, but not at the school book buy-back event. (Seriously, after two degrees and a Master’s I never returned to any of my books for any references or use. In fact, there were quite a few textbooks which I hardly used at all while taking the classes.) Do so on an online site and you will make much more money.

    Also, don’t fall for the e-book business they are trying to push on all students now in some schools. You pay only about $20.00 less than a regular textbook and you have nothing to resell when the class is finished.

  2. I read about Chegg recently and it looks like a great idea. I used to buy all my books used but renting might be an even better idea, especially if you don’t want to keep the books.

  3. I would be cautious about buying the previous edition of a book depending on the class. Sometimes if the professor does HW from questions in the book those will not line up. BUT sometimes if you talk to the professor ahead of time they are aware of this and can direct you to the correct questions. Or you could always get with a classmate to copy just the questions.

  4. I agree with both cost saving ideas however, don’t be limited to There are a LOT of college textbook companies to buy used books from at substantial savings — bestbookbuys (.com) is one that shows a list of locations which have the book for sale, plus their cost to ship, so you can compare before you buy.

  5. Have you looked at It’s a netflicks like subscription place for books and text books

  6. Thanks for the great money saving advice on text books! I have been searching for ways to save money on text books before I head back to college soon. This is exactly what I was looking for!

    I too have heard Chegg was a good idea. I am hoping to try it out next year if none of these other ideas work for a certain book. 🙂

  7. I have saved myself some money in seminary using some of these ideas. I went from a book that should have cost around $40 to one that cost me around $20. 50% is a lot!

  8. While – as a very recent grad – I applaud most of your suggestions, I cannot help but mention that for me, buying textbooks before the first day of class would have been highly impractical. For the most part, at least one course, if not several, in my schedule changed during ‘shopping week,’ and usually, I over-registered and then selected my courses during the first week of class. Still, I recommend students use these tips (they saved me money!). Most professors are usually fine if you don’t have to book for the first few days of class, at least in my limited experience. Often, the book will be on reserve in the library anyway, so you can make some photocopies while you wait for your copy in the mail. Also, depending on the professor, try and level with her/him about how frequently the textbook will be used. Some professors I studied with ordered a certain book in order to ‘norm’ with the other professors teaching the same course, but never used the book. If it will only be used very infrequently, it may be cheaper just to use the on reserve copy in the library, if there is one, or to make friends with someone in the same course and make photocopies to study from.

  9. Using an old edition is a very risky move. You really need to ask your teacher before you buy it. For example, all of the classes I’ve taken, the teacher has urged us NOT to buy an old edition because the homework problems are different in the older editions, and she is using the newer edition.

    While there are many strategies for saving money on textbooks, buying an older edition could end up much more costly than buying the actual book the teacher recommends.

    I’m a college student, and I felt that this needed to be addressed before parents buy the wrong, unusable edition.

  10. Old edition, single best piece of advice for saving on textbooks!

    Everyone balks at it out of fear, but it is unfounded.
    1.) My grades only went up as I used old editions.
    2.) The few differences I noticed were easy to figure out and did not alter my grades, or ability to learn.
    3.) 90% of the time no differences were noticed between editions, for the purpose of my class.

    Don’t be ruled by fear, get the old edition.

  11. These are excellent tips and suggestions. My oldest daughter started college with the summer session and we spent about $300 for just three books! I was so unprepared that I didn’t have a choice … before the fall semester she did her homework and was able to find about six months for about $300! I’m so proud of her and I recommend everyone look into alternative methods of buying textbooks.

  12. Has anyone noticed a relationship between the usefulness of a textbook in a course and the usefulness of that same book later on?

    I kept most of my textbooks and have re-used the vast majority. I’ve referred to some several times over the years when tutoring, when designing something, when playing with a mathematical proof in the living room, or when I just want to chill out with Dante, Chaucer, or Rabelais in the original language. The best books really are worth re-reading, and the grammar and translation texts are invaluable. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to refer back to them to settle an argument or to look up something I’ve forgotten. Unfortunately many of the best books haven’t come back to me: I’ve lent them to “friends” and they’re very hard to replace. It’s impossible to find a decent basic physics or calculus textbook at a reasonable price.

    I’m finding that the texts that were not useful during the course, the ones not favored by the professor, were usually ignored for a reason. Either the content is lacking or the presentation stinks. Those are the ones I have found useless in everyday life.

    There’s something to be said for successive “editions” of a textbook. It has to be said because it’s unprintable. Unless at least a tenth of the content is obsolete, my opinion is that a new edition is unnecessary and that the authors, editors, and publishers need to be slapped.

  13. I would be VERY wary of buying an older edition. My current textbook for my Intro to Business course is reprinted every year with completely new examples and information based on what happened in the last year. Also, buying used books can mean that you miss out on required online information. Alot of text books now come with a key that gives you access to the site for a semester and then expires. Some of my professors are using the online information as required review and testing for the course. You can only get access to it buy buying the new edition.

  14. I’d be a little careful with the old editions, too. I remember some instances where the content was changed quite a bit from one edition to the next. I suspect that this would vary a bit, based on the subject – some are simply more prone to changes than others. IT books, for example, probably change a bit more than Geometry books.

  15. While it is always a great idea to save money on textbooks, remember that you usually have to use a credit card to buy books online. This is fine if the student is responsible and pays it off right away. However if they ignore it long enough that cheap book could end up costing them a lot in finance charges.

  16. As a senior lecturer at a university, I have to agree with Sarah that you need to talk to the instructor before you buy an older edition of a book. Homework problems DO change from one edition to the next, and in some fields the information changes considerably. I teach chemical engineering, and for some of my classes I specifically tell the students it doesn’t matter which edition they use, and for others it does.

    Another option for saving money is to purchase electronic books from the publisher directly. One publisher (Wiley) has made several of our engineering textbooks available this way, for about 25% of the cost of a hardcover book. The students are able to download the file as a PDF document and keep it forever if they want to.

  17. I just returned to college (after many years away). I bought my books and saved by using Amazon. However, warn students to not write in books! My college-age daughter informed me that I can sell my books for only a pittance, if at all, because I have written in them. She says the college bookstore won’t even take them back. I’ve learned something already!

  18. We are the few and the proud. You are one of the only people I have EVER heard of getting a text through interlibrary loan. I did it in college 15 years ago. Those were the days before Amazon when choices were really limited. I can remember being thrilled when I found texts at the library and when students had internet posting groups for used texts. To this day, I can not buy a book at Barnes and Noble because I felt price gouged for years…

  19. @Lisa Glad to hear there are other fans of interlibrary loan out there! Too many people brush it off because it sounds boring and complicated, but the process is rather simple once you get the hang of it.

    I saved at least $50-$200 every semester and was amazed when I would tell my friends but they would just ignore me and go to the bookstore. These are the same people who are now tight for cash and having to take the first job that is thrown their way. Savings = Freedom!

  20. I am a student and sometimes it’s dificult to find cheaper books online because profs like to use the absolute newest editions which are hard to find for much cheaper than the campus book store.

    *On a side note, while bringing my bro. to college on Saturday their book store had old editions of textbooks for sale – only .50 – $1 each! I bought three finance text books in case I ever need to brush up on some key ideas before a job interview.

  21. I would suggest checking prices before you buy. My daughter just started at a small bible college and the bookstore prices are BETTER than any other source. And, the other cool thing about her school is that most classes will use the same books over and over, so no selling back, and lots of reuse. Now that’s a program that I can get behind!

  22. It can also be a bad idea to buy online sometimes. Once, I ordered a book that simply never showed up. There was no notice, so I thought it’d just come at the end of the time window, but it never did. I was fortunate and passed the class anyway, but if it had been something like math I would have been out of luck.