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5 Money-Saving Tips for Freshmen Navigating the College Bookstore

Photo of author, Chelsea Clegg, CFP®.
Chelsea Clegg, CFP®
Associate Financial Strategist

So your son or daughter is headed to college next fall…Congratulations! It seems no sooner after the kids have walked across that stage to receive their high school diploma, that they’re headed to their college freshman orientation day and preparing for what they will take to campus. And for mom and dad, the summer can quickly become a hectic time gathering the food and supplies they will need, buying dorm room necessities, packing bags and plastic tubs, and of course, paying that first tuition bill.

Yes, we all know college is EXPENSIVE. But there is one area where cost-savings are possible, if you just have a little bit of information ahead of time – buying college books.

If you peruse any college bookstore, the price tags on textbooks, lab manuals, reading supplements, and other “essentials” for your student will downright put you over the edge. But don’t fret too much – there are ways your new college freshman can reduce these expenses.

Tip #1: Buy used textbooks. This can be accomplished through the college’s bookstore or online. Simply do a search for the textbook you need. Be sure to find the proper book by using the book’s ISBN (International Standard Book Number).

Tip #2: Rent the textbooks. This can be accomplished through the college’s bookstore or online via websites such as Chegg or Amazon. Some libraries now allow long-term renting.

Tip #3: Contact your professor/instructor to see if past versions of the textbook are able to be used. Often the school recommends the newest edition but older versions may suffice. Note: there may be subtle differences in the text such as cover image, order of chapters and examples used so caution should be used.

Tip #4: Use your college’s book exchange (swapping) program, if offered. For example, once you are finished with your English 101 book, post an announcement that the book is available. The program works the other way as well – perhaps you need the Chemistry 300 textbook.

Tip #5: Sell your textbooks after the semester is over. Colleges often have a buyback sale where you will receive a percentage of the price paid in cash or credit for a future purchase. You can also sell the books online via websites such as Amazon or Cash4Books.

Some students advise that it's also a good idea to attend the first class before purchasing any book. Often the professor will tell students a particular book is not needed for his class while he reviews the course syllabus.

It should be noted that these are general tips and not all colleges or universities will offer the options listed above.

For even more information on ways to save money on textbooks, click here.

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