When you go to your university bookstore, your eyes bulge out when you see the whopping $120 price tag on your textbook – and that's for a used book. With these prices, how do you keep your textbook expenses from approaching the cost of tuition? Read on to find out. (Read Invest In Yourself With A College Education for reassurance that the financial hardship will pay off.)

Compare Prices
Your school bookstore isn't the only place to buy textbooks. Look online and on student-posted fliers. Often, fliers line the halls in the building where your class is going to be held, and there are dozens of online venues across the internet where individuals can sell their textbooks person-to-person. Compare prices to those offered at the campus bookstore.

Buy E-Books
Many textbooks are available in a downloadable format for less money. Search for your book's edition online, and check the syllabus for your courses for online options. (For reading that could actually make you richer, check out Investing Books It Pays To Read.)

Use Older Editions
While the current edition may sell for $100, last semester's edition now sells for $65. Ask your professor if older editions can still be used. Often, only a few changes were made from one edition to another, and if the professor doesn't assign homework involving questions that are only available in the newer edition, you are home free - and a little richer.

Sell Your Old Textbooks
You may recoup much of your textbook money by selling your old textbooks online or directly to another student taking the course in a subsequent semester. This is because you cut out the middleman - the bookstore. For instance, if the bookstore is selling a used book for $75 and you sell it for $55, the buyer saves $20, which, incidentally, may be what the bookstore would have paid you for your used textbook. (You can now cut out the middleman even when borrowing money; read Peer-To-Peer Lending Breaks Down Financial Borders to learn more.)

Below are several tips for selling your used textbooks painlessly:

  • Put all details in your flier or online ad. Just like you would want to know the edition, author and title are correct on the textbooks you buy, so does the buyer. Also, remember to add the ISBN, the identification number used to catalog books.
  • Be realistic about the condition of your book. Don't say your book is in like-new condition unless there are no dents on covers, no highlights, etc. You will lose money if an item gets returned due to an inaccurate description.
  • Compare online selling costs. Commission on online auctions is taken at sale only and is normally only a few dollars. Read the exact commission rates on the websites you are considering before choosing where you want to list your book. The lower the commission rate, the more you will make on your sale. (For more tips for evaluating online retailers, read Choosing The Winner In The Click-And-Mortar Game.)
  • Check shipping rates ahead of time. The last mistake you'd want to make is under- or overcharging for shipping. Go to the USPS website and input the approximate weight of your book in the Postal Price Calculator. Use any zip code in the U.S. in the box for where you are sending your item because the Postal Service's rates for sending packages via media mail - the cheapest way to send textbooks - is calculated based on weight of packages and not distance within the United States.
  • Keep your ratings positive. When you sell regularly on one website, feedback is often posted. You want yours to be as positive as possible. Send an email when you ship your book, and ship your book within a week of when it is sold.
  • Sell as soon as possible. Professors may use books for one semester or several years. You want to sell your textbook as fast as possible, in case your book will soon be out of use. But don't panic if your campus bookstore tells you there's a new edition of your old textbook the semester after you finish the course. Every campus is different, and someone from a different university may still buy your used textbook online.

When you are not ordering from your campus bookstore, you may experience delayed shipping, missing textbook accessories, such as CD-ROMS, or even receive the wrong book. Here's how to defeat all these online textbook traps to get a great deal and the right textbook - before your semester starts. (For more tips on avoiding getting taken for a ride by an online dealer, read Shopping Online: Convenience, Bargains And A Few Scams.)

  • Order your textbooks two to three weeks before your class starts, if possible. Look in the book-description area for signals that the person will ship your textbook quickly, like "ships fast," "ships within 48 hours" or "ships within three business days."
  • Check online ratings before ordering. If the site you're looking at has ratings and feedback for the seller, read feedback carefully before choosing your textbook.
  • Don't assume anything. There may be two books with the same title, so verify the authors and the editions with the department offices for all of your classes. If an online ad is unclear, email the seller questions to verify it is the book you want.

You have choices when it comes to buying and selling your textbooks. As is said about the stock market, buy low and sell high. If you follow this advice through four years of college, you may graduate having paid for the equivalent of only one or two semesters' worth of textbooks for your entire four-year college career.

(For other ways to reduce your higher education costs read Tuition Reimbursement - An Employment Perk and Pay For College Without Selling A Kidney.)

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