The More You Know, the More You Save: Textbook Edition

As college costs have continued to rise, it becomes increasingly important to find strategies that might reduce expenses.

As part of that effort, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently reported on a study it conducted on textbook affordability. The study looked at ways publishers have tried to reduce students' costs (such as giving students the option to buy some materials individually rather than bundled), and how schools have kept students informed about textbook pricing and options.

It's good that publishers and schools are working to keep students informed, and now's the time to think about your best options for keeping textbook costs under control. Since high school students receive textbooks at no cost, it can be tough to get used to the idea that college textbooks have to be purchased. In fact, the College Board estimates that the average annual cost for books and supplies at a four-year institution is $1,168! According to the GAO, textbooks equate to approximately 25% of the cost of tuition and fees at state universities and over 70% at community colleges.

However, you can quit nervously speculating about taking a second job, because there are cost-saving measures available! They include: shopping online, renting textbooks, or purchasing used books. It's also possible that some textbooks may be available for your e-reader, which may well mean you spend less.

Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:

  • New textbooks (especially in hardback) will probably have the highest cost.
  • Used textbooks will generally cost less (though they will not always be in perfect condition).
  • Rental textbooks may be available through some bookstores and online vendors, and this option could be even less expensive (though you should be aware of any possible hidden costs, such as late fees).
  • E-books will often be the least expensive option, when available (though this option will require a compatible device).

In purchasing textbooks, as in many aspects of your financial life, a little research can go a long way to a better bottom line.

United States Government Accountability Office. (2013). Students Have Greater Access to Textbook Information
(GAO-13-368, Jun 6, 2013). Retrieved from

  •  United States Government Accountability Office. (2005). College Textbooks: Enhanced Offerings Appear to Drive Recent Prince Increases (GAO Publication No. 05-806). Retrieved from