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Saving on college textbooks

Buying college textbooks used to be simple: Professors told you what books to buy. You went to the college bookstore and bought them. At the end of the course, you had the option to sell them back. These days, it's a little different and a lot more expensive - the estimated cost to students for textbooks in the 2012-2013 academic year is $1,121. Today, there are many different options for students to consider, including not purchasing at all, but renting books. Digital-textbook alternatives offer students new ways to access books and potentially save money.

Where to buy textbooks today

The campus bookstore. It's local, but does it have what you need at the price you can afford? Cruise through the aisles so you can compare as you continue your search.

Off-campus bookstores. These options can range from small, local shops to national chains. Some stores offer loyalty-reward programs contingent on dollars spent.

Textbook-specific websites. There are many, many textbook websites, which a quick online search will confirm. Talk to other students to see where they're finding the best prices and most reliable service.

Name brand retailers. Amazon, eBay and even Craig's List provide many options direct from the retailer or through their marketplace where individuals sell items.

Electronic textbooks. Instead of lugging your books around, you can purchase and download what you need to your e-reader or tablet. While you can't resell an e-textbook at the end of the semester, they tend to cost up to 50 percent less than a new, hardcopy book. If your reading list includes classical literature that's in the public domain, you'll find websites offering free downloads.

Renting textbooks. You can now rent hardcopy textbooks instead of purchasing them. Companies offering this service will take your order and deliver it to your local campus bookstore for pickup. At the end of the semester, you take them back, and you're done.

If you decide to purchase online, watch your shipping costs, which can add up quickly and erase your savings. Don't forget to allow time for delivery so you have the materials in time for class.

Savings ideas

Used books. Some students still want the physical feel of a book with pages in their hands. Before you buy new, find out if you can acquire a used copy.

The library. Most college libraries have a few copies of popular college textbooks. See if you can acquire one for the semester, or if it's held on reserve, drop by the library when you need to read a chapter.

Share. If you have a friend taking the same class, share the book, and work out a study schedule.

Sell your books back. Try selling to your campus bookstore, posting notices in buildings or selling via your own online marketplace on a reputable website.

Open source. A relatively new concept, open textbooks allow students to choose the way they read, whether it's a digital copy for free, a file they print themselves, or a paid print copy.