Make a list of the prices of each textbook on your list. (Photo by Peter Houghton)

There are lots of ways to do shopping. Oftentimes people make out lists, drive around, use the Internet, and do a variety of other things when making a purchase of any significance. Instead of simply flying by the seat of your pants when getting your textbooks, there are four simple steps you can take to be a smart shopper who will end up saving the most money on textbooks.

Consider following these four steps:

1) Get your book list
Bring in your class schedule to your campus bookstore or enter your course information on the store’s official website. This will provide you with a detailed list containing titles, authors, ISBNs, and perhaps even prices of the required and recommended textbooks for each of your classes. This step is the most important to know exactly what you need to get before the first day of the semester rolls around.

2) Find outlets for your textbooks
Make a list of each outlet that carries (or might carry) your books. This should include your campus bookstore, any other local textbooks outlets in your area, and online websites that sell and rent textbooks. You can use to find a lot of this information, including lists of bookstores on and near college campuses along with a handy price comparison tool for your online shopping needs.

3) Compare prices
After you discover what your options are for where to get your textbooks, the next step is to compare prices on your books from each of these different options. It’s worth making trips to local textbook stores in your area just to find out how much they are charging for the books on your list. Make up a price list or take notes on your smartphone. Once you’ve complied a list of prices, it should be easy to determine what the best prices are. Consider whether you want to rent your books as well, which generally can help you save money.

4) Get the books by either buying or renting them
Once you’ve weighed your textbook outlets and the prices on books that they offer, it’s time to make your purchases. If you’re getting your books locally, you might be able to make just one trip to either a single store or multiple stores. If you’re shopping online, bookmark the specific sites that link to the actual textbooks you need, and make sure you order them so they arrive in time for the beginning of the semester. Make sure you save your receipts in case you have to return any of your items. Also, it’s critical to follow any special instructions when renting textbooks from brick-and-mortar stores as well as online textbook services.

To ensure you have enough time to follow these steps, start the process early. Get a copy of your book list as soon as you possibly can from your professors. If you wait too long, you might be missing out on deals, and you could end up getting your books too late.