Circulation desk at DH Hill library

Breaking Bank to Buy Your Books?

Classes have officially started back for the spring semester, and for many of us, that means it’s time to dole out hundreds of dollars for textbooks. But sometimes, that’s not necessary. If this is your first year in college, you’ve probably stared a $500 bookstore receipt in the face and are still recovering.

There are cheaper ways to get a required textbook. Keep in mind, though, that not all book purchases are avoidable. Buying an access code for online homework is unfortunately inevitable.

After two years of selling my soul to the campus bookstore, I learned a couple of helpful hints from writers at US News, Forbes, Time, USA Today, and How Stuff Works. Everyone has advice on how to save money on textbooks, so I will briefly outline some penny-pinching steps you can take to avoid breaking the bank next semester.

Save Money on Textbooks in Five Easy Steps

1. Skip the bookstore! 

Campus bookstores are infamous for their expensive books and laughable buy-back rates. Avoid using the bookstore if you can. However, some classes require access codes, which are often only good for one use and one semester, but they can come with an e-book that you can use alongside the homework assignments.

2. Find textbooks at the library. Circulation desk at DH Hill library

This step varies by school, but often university libraries have required textbooks on hand for reference. The library will allow you to rent your textbook for free, provided you do homework inside the library. For classes that do not require you to bring your book to class, this is a great solution.

NC State has a textbook circulation desk where you can check out textbooks for two hours, so long as you keep them in the library. I used the library for all of my textbooks one semester and did not have a problem. However, a handful of times someone had checked out the psychology book that I needed for homework. If you ever encounter this problem, you can check out an older edition of the book and find basically the same information, though page numbers may vary.

3. Use a price comparison site. 

Finding books on different websites is tedious at best, considering there are at least a dozen sites that you know of at any given time. But there are websites that will do the work for you.

Price comparison sites like BigWords search for your textbook and calculate the best price. You can choose a physical book or e-book, new/used/rental items, and quality control settings (like ignoring bad sellers). Based on your choices, BigWords calculates the lowest price of your book – including shipping – and will bring you directly to the bookseller’s site for you to buy the book. You don’t have to do any price hunting yourself.

4. Go for the bare necessities. 

Sometimes “required” doesn’t mean required. Sometimes the textbook that is “required” for a class will be used as a reference guide, while assignments and lectures will be up to the professor’s discretion. But you can’t tell by looking at your textbook list. Wait until the first week of classes to decide how much the teacher will use the textbook.

I bought all my textbooks before school started every semester, but my last semester I decided to wait it out. It turns out that the communication class I was taking had a “required” textbook and access code, but my professor flat-out told me that we would not be using it frequently. I saved $100 by waiting to buy my books.

5. Consider the medium. 

New books are guaranteed to be the most expensive types of textbooks, but they are guaranteed to be fresh. Used books are cheaper, though they may have notes written in the margins and a crease or two in the cover. Both of these you can potentially sell back. NC State has a couple of Neebo stores within walking distance, and in my experience they will give you a decent amount of money back.

Rental books are great if you’re only interested in keeping the book for the semester.

E-books are great if you need to save space and don’t want to carry a paperweight on your trek to class. And it turns out that there are several ways to get an e-book, including illegally downloading it. (Obviously I’m not going to provide the link.)

Happy Buying (or Not)!

Hopefully these tips will save you a great deal of money this semester. With rising tuition prices, it’s important to save as much as possible to offset the skyrocketing costs. If you have any other tips or sites you would like to share, please comment down below.

Have a great first week of the spring semester!


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