11 ways to save money on textbooks

11 ways to save money on textbooks

    Although e-books have made it easier to find and use schoolbooks, many students and their families still experience “sticker shock” when they see the textbook prices at the start of each semester. These costs mean students are constantly on the lookout for new ways to save money on college textbooks to help keep to their student budget.

    How much are college textbooks?

    Between 2020 and 2021, the average student spent $1,226 on textbooks per academic year.

    • 25% of students said they worked additional hours to cover the costs of books
    • 11% reported skipping meals to pay for them

    With these costs sitting alongside heftier expenses such as tuition and rent, students are getting creative with their college finances, building up a positive credit history, and taking out loans. When attempting to cut costs at college, the little things also add up, such as taking the following steps to save money on college textbooks.

    1. Avoid the campus bookstore

    It is important to recognize when your school is selling you short. Colleges need to make money, and selling textbooks at a high price is an easy way to do so. New textbooks from campus stores usually cost the full recommended retail price. If you’re in the market for cheap college textbooks, the campus bookstore is the last place to look.

    2. Forget about buying specific editions

    Don’t fret about finding the specific edition listed on the reading list. If a professor really requires you to have a specific edition, they will emphasize this in the syllabus. Usually, an edition is only specified so that the page numbers match up when the book is referenced in class.

    The newest versions of a book are always the most expensive. You are likely to find that plenty of classmates have different versions. Working from an older edition should be no problem and could potentially save you a lot of money.

    3. Consider e-books

    One way to get your textbooks for free or at a heavily discounted price is by downloading them onto your laptop, phone, tablet, or Kindle. For subjects such as philosophy, political science or literature, where you are often assigned historical and classic texts, this can save you a great deal of money, as many of the books that are old enough to be out of copyright are available for free – just search in the App Store for free books to get you started. Alternatively, check out Project Gutenberg, which is leading the way in making more out-of-copyright books free.

    Two words of warning when it comes to e-books: firstly, some professors do not like electronic devices being used in their classroom and prefer students to have hard copies. Secondly, if you like to annotate or highlight what you are reading, you will find this option a little frustrating. There are ways to highlight and write notes over electronic works, but for some this is just not the same.

    Still, for fairly short reading assignments or recommended extra reading, being aware of the free options is very useful – especially when it comes to literature.

    4. Buy used college books

    There is no reason to purchase a new textbook if a cheaper but equally effective used book is available. If the used college book looks like a dog ate through half of it and the remaining half smells like a garbage dump, then obviously splurge on the new book; otherwise, always go used.

    It is worth checking the book section at thrift stores – a surprising amount of political science and literature giants can be found at Goodwill for just a couple of dollars.

    Alternatively, use your network to track down individuals who are looking to unload their used textbooks for cheap. Facebook, Twitter, and the school’s online message boards can make quick work of this task. Just be sure to exercise caution, because in-person sales lack the security of online vendors.

    5. Swap textbooks with friends

    Befriending students who have already taken your classes is always a good idea as they might be willing to swap their books with you. If you don’t have anyone to swap books with, there may a book exchange on campus – your student union or advisor can help with this. If there isn’t a campus book exchange, put up a flyer on the department noticeboard stating your interest in swapping textbooks.

    Over the past few years, various websites have sprung up that enable book swapping. There is a wider range of books available online, making it easier to facilitate the exchange. PaperBackSwap and Swapbooks are 2 current examples.

    6. Check the campus library

    You may be assuming the few copies of the required textbooks have already been checked out from the campus library, but often this is not the case. Ideally, reserve the books a term in advance to save yourself a lot of money. Just be sure to keep an eye on their due dates, as library fines can add up.

    7. Buy and sell your college books online

    It is now possible to buy used college textbooks online and sell them back at the end of the semester. Just remember to keep your books in good condition, otherwise they may lose value or you might not be able to sell them at all.

    Online marketplaces for trading books include:


    The world’s largest online retailer began life as an online bookstore. Amazon still offers students one of the best methods to buy and sell textbooks and e-textbooks.

    Abe Books

    For graduate students who need rare or out-of- print books, AbeBooks is an essential resource. They maintain a database of sellers from all over the world, which offers buyers a selection of translated and alternate editions that may not be available in the U.S. For students who want to sell their textbooks, AbeBooks has 2 easy programs that allow sellers to ship their books free of charge.


    One of the few online booksellers that focus on educational materials, textbooks.com buys and sells books for students of all ages.

    8. Rent textbooks online

    In recent years, online retailers have streamlined the online rental process, making it far more straightforward than it used to be. As well as the obvious financial benefits, another advantage of renting is that you are not accumulating even more clutter that you eventually have to try to sell or throw away.

    Websites offering a book rental service include:


    Chegg is one of the nation’s most popular textbook rental websites. It allows students to browse by ISBA, author’s name, or title, and offers 21-day refunds on returns. It also allows students to buy or sell textbooks, and provides career advice and study tools.


    Established in 1999 as a service for students to order books online and pick them up at campus bookstores, eCampus have transformed into a major college e-retailer. Students can rent the books by typing in the ISBNs of the books they want, and eCampus ships them for free. When students finish the semester, they can ship the books back, also free of charge.


    Booksrun offers a similar service to eCampus and is proud of its sustainability credentials. With its recyclable packaging and book rental service, this website if doing its bit to counter throwaway culture.


    Not only does this site have a comparison tool that allows you to compare the prices of books across different sites, it also remains a top marketplace for textbook rentals. CampusBooks allows students to rent, buy, and sell textbooks.

    9. Use a textbook subscription service

    Subscription services have been a great way for consumers to get access to content at an affordable monthly price. Pearson is a multinational publishing company with a subscription service similar to Netflix. For a monthly fee, students gain access to books, audiobooks, and study portal.

    Another prominent textbook subscription services is Perlego who just teamed up with Cengage Learning EMEA, a UK-based education publisher, to run their own textbook “streaming” service.

    10. Don’t buy all the college books on the syllabus immediately

    A typical first-year mistake is to run out and buy every book on the reading list. While this sounds conscientious, it often turns out to be a costly error.

    Wait until the first class to find out which of the books you really need to buy. You may discover that some of them are additional reading material and not required for every class. There are even occasions when professors forget to update the list, so it makes sense to hold off before buying the books.

    Look out for bookstores that offer student discounts. Knowing all the shops and services that provide this benefit can save you money and help you to get the most out of college.

    11. Get a scholarship or grant for your college textbooks

    Alongside regular scholarships and grants, funding opportunities exist that are specifically designed to help students buy textbooks. One of these is Textbook Grants, which helps low-income students get the books they need. With a little research, you might find you qualify for several schemes such as this, allowing you to get your books subsidized or completely free.

    Final thoughts on how to save money on college textbooks

    The first step to saving money on college textbooks is to realize that there are a huge range of options available to you. Depending on your choice of major, you may find yourself using one of the above-listed strategies more than others. A little research can go a long way, and if enough students seek alternatives to their campus bookstores, it will force colleges to make textbooks more affordable for their students.

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