15 Ways to Save Money on Books and School Supplies

Published Apr 12, 2010

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The rising cost of tuition gets a lot of press, but there many other necessary items that are climbing in price as well. It's not unusual for students to spend more than $1,000 on these items each semester. Fortunately, there are ways save money on everything from textbooks to must-have school supplies.


1. Shop Around

  • PriceGrabber - Compares prices on popular products.
  • BookFinder - Compares prices on more than 150 million books.
  • Shopper.com - Compares prices on software and electronics.

The best way to get a deal on anything is by shopping around. There are an endless number of sites online designed to help you make price comparisons on everything from books to software. Take advantage of them whenever possible.

2. Buy Used

  • eBay - There's no limit to what you can buy used on eBay.
  • Amazon - A good place to find used textbooks and other school supplies.

There's nothing wrong with buying secondhand. In fact, it's smart. It makes no sense to spend a lot of money on textbooks or something else that will be rendered useless within a few months time--especially when the used item is half the cost and just as good.

3. Buy from Outlets

  • Dell Outlet - Closeout, refurbished and overstock products from Dell.
  • HP Outlet - Closeout, refurbished and overstock products from HP.

Computer sellers offer huge deals on closeout, refurbished and overstock products. These products have been tested for optimal performance and usually include limited warranties. You can find closeout, refurbished and overstock products by searching the seller's online outlet store.

4. Buy International

Often times, the international edition of a textbook will be much cheaper than the U.S. edition. There is usually no real difference between the two, other than the cover and the price.

5. Go Digital

  • Zinio - Buy digital textbooks, books, magazines, newspapers and more.
  • iChapters - Buy digital textbook chapters for only $1.99.
  • CourseSmart - Choose from a large selection of heavily discounted digital textbooks.

If you don't mind reading on your computer, digital textbooks are the way to go. They are earth-friendly and almost always half the price of traditional textbooks. In most cases, it's just as easy to flag, annotate, and mark up the digital copy as it is to doodle on the hard copy.

6. Rent Textbooks

  • Yung Junk - Rent textbooks for free and pay only for the shipping.
  • Chegg - Save from 65 to 85 percent on textbooks.
  • CampusBookRentals.com - Save up to 85 percent on textbooks.

In many cases, renting textbooks can actually be cheaper than purchasing them outright. You simply rent the books for as long as you need them, returning them when you are finished.

7. Buy New Books Online

  • BigWords - Compares prices on new textbooks at all of the best online textbook stores.
  • BookByte - Save on new books, textbooks and other school supplies.
  • eCampus - Save 50 to 90 percent on new textbooks.

If you don't want to rent your textbooks, buy used or go digital, you should at least buy your textbooks online. Campus bookstore prices can be outrageous. If you buy online, you can compare prices from multiple sellers and get the best deal possible.

8. Visit the Library

College libraries--and public libraries as well--often keep college textbooks on their shelves. Sometimes these books have to be used in the library, but often times, they are available for anyone to borrow. If you won't be using your textbook every day, you may be able to lean on the library and save a lot of money.

9. Look for Free Textbooks

Finding free textbooks isn't always easy but it is possible. Before you buy anything, you should search the most popular free textbook sites to see if you can find what you're looking for.

10. Take Advantage of Reference Materials Free

Stocking your bookshelf with reference materials can be expensive, not to mention unnecessary. There are lots of sites that publish free reference materials online. Many of them let you download materials to your computer; others are web-based. In any case, you already have every reference book you will ever need at your fingertips.

11. Use Open Source Software

  • OpenOffice- A free productivity suite (similar to Microsoft Office.)
  • Zoho - A free suite of productivity and collaboration apps.
  • Google Docs - A free web-based spreadsheet and word processor tool.

Buying software can be very expensive. If you'd like to deck out your computer for college, consider using open source software. It's free and usually works just as well.

12. Trade with Other Students

  • BookMooch - Give away books you don't want to get books you need.
  • College Swap Shop - Trade books, school supplies, furniture and various items with other students.

In the old days, almost everyone traded for what they needed. You can do the same with other college students. Simply post flyers online and around your campus letting people know the items you need and what you have to offer in return.

13. Get a Discount Card

Student discount cards can help you save on everything from food to books and supplies. In most cases, you will be required to pay a one-time or annual fee to get the card, but the savings you receive in return are almost always worth it.

14. Shop Thrift Shops

The bad economy has pushed retail sales down in a lot of places--but not thrift shops. These businesses are booming. You may be hard pressed to find things like textbooks in thrift shops, but you can find clothes and other cheap school supplies.

15. Advertise Your Needs

When all else fails, try advertising your needs through online marketplaces. You may be surprised by all the responses you get.

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