8 Insider Tips to Saving Money on Textbooks

ways to save money on textbooks

As an academic librarian, the biggest complaint I hear isn’t about my shushing, it’s about the price of textbooks. When I was a young lass, I knew little about purchasing textbooks. I only knew of the campus bookstore that squeezed every last dime out of my sweaty fresh meat hand and helped me to rack up some major credit card debt. (Read this next part in a Teddy Roosevelt voice.) But with the Information Age upon us, young people have the ability to choose textbooks from a variety of vendors and save their hard-earned pennies. (End Teddy Roosevelt voice.) Ok, let’s get serious, y’all, today I’m here to share some of the best librarian tricks I’ve found to beating the evils of high  textbook prices.

8 Insider Tips to Saving Money on Textbooks…

1. Used Books (duh!)

Most campus bookstores will offer used editions of textbooks at a reduced rate. But don’t forget about off-campus bookstores and independent bookstores, too. Often times there will be less competition (i.e. less markup) at bookstores that don’t market themselves as place for textbooks. Check out Indiebound for your local independent bookstore.

2. Online Marketplaces

Amazon isn’t just for binge-ordering gluten-free granola. Amazon started out as a bookseller and remains one of the best and biggest in the business. Bonus tip: Try Half.com (an Ebay affiliate) for deals too!

But don’t just shop the big-name online marketplaces for discounts. Other online booksellers, like Bookbyte and Biblio can offer used textbooks at a more affordable price.

Textbook Price Comparison will even do some of the comparison shopping for you. Just type in your book’s ISBN (that really long number usually located above the barcode) and you’ll see a breakdown of book prices on select sites.

3. Rent Books

Renting textbooks is becoming the norm at many campuses. But again, that campus bookstore can markup rentals too. Consider renting your textbooks from an online site, such as Chegg. Just make sure you keep your books in tip-top shape! You’ll have to return them like that Marc Jacobs sweater you can’t afford.

4. Electronic Books

Open Source (Free Ebooks!)

You’ve probably heard of GoogleBooks by now. If you haven’t, crawl out from under that rock and check it out. GoogleBooks isn’t great for textbooks since most of their full-text books are older books that have fallen out of copyright. But don’t discount it, GoogleBooks is particularly good for those World Lit courses or that (dreaded) Shakespeare course.

Other amazing open source Ebook projects include Project Gutenberg and the Internet Public Library. If you haven’t checked these sites out, they’re definitely worth a long procrastination session.

E-Book Vendors

Not all e-books are free, of course, but oftentimes e-books are offered at a reduced rate. Sites like CourseSmart and ECampus sell textbook e-books. E-books are great for that forgetful student (me) that never remembers to bring her textbook to class.

5. Library Books

I can’t forget about the most magical place in all the land– the library! The campus library has so many options for helping you get those textbooks. Libraries may have the book on the shelf, but in most cases, campus libraries offer course textbooks on reserve. When an item is on reserve, it usually means you can’t check it out, but you can use the item in the library.

If the library doesn’t have the book you need in their general collection or on reserve, it may also offer interlibrary loan services. This means through their own library system or a giant library collective catalog, such as OCLC’s WorldCat, you can borrow the book from another library. You may not be able to keep the book all semester, but it’s better than spending your hard-earned ramen money on a book.

6. Book Swaps

Bookswapping is one of my favorite (practically) free ways to get books. Online users swap books for the mere cost of shipping. Check out Paper Back Swap and Book Mooch to see if you can swap out your old books for textbooks.

If you’ve been in college a few years, you could even organize a book swap among friends or dorm-wide! Make it big, fight the man, save some cash.

7. International Edition

Here’s a little insider knowledge: Textbook manufacturers often create an international edition of a textbook to sell worldwide. The international version is often priced cheaper than the American version to fit the competitive prices of books in the destination country. AbeBooks offers the ability to search for international editions of textbooks. Just remember that the international edition is worldly. She’s been places. She may not be exactly the same as the American edition.

8. Don’t forget to sell your books back!

Refrain from your desire to stick Lisa Frank stickers all over your textbooks. Don’t drop them in a puddle of beer. And sell them at the end of the semester! There’s a ton of options to sell your books– Amazon, Campus Books, your DeadHead neighbor– they all want your Abnormal Psychology book. Sell it before your professor changes the class textbook!


How do you save money on textbooks and going back to school in general?

Melanie saves college students from the perils of research as a librarian. When she’s not saving students, her superpowers include DIY projects and living small in an Airstream trailer. You can read more about Melanie’s adventures on her blog, Love Library


15 thoughts on “8 Insider Tips to Saving Money on Textbooks

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  1. The Norwegian Girl

    i usually buy my textbooks online, preferably on Amazon, where I save tons of money, compared to the cost of the campus bookstore. I often buy the big textbooks that are often used, and borrow the other one from the university´s library.

  2. Pieliekamais

    Incredibly, I’ve been able to sell a few old textbooks online and I believe it’s because I “priced to excite”.
    It really doesn’t matter that I paid a small fortune for the books when I got them brand new. I think if someone is going to go through the hassle of buying the books from someone they don’t know on the internet, it just has to be a great deal.
    Also, even though my earnings from this endeavor were very modest (about 45 bucks total), I’m hoping that the money experts will agree that it was still worth it. Because 45 bucks is 45 bucks, right?

  3. Melissa

    This past Dec. I graduated from Indiana Univ. after 10 LONG years of working towards my BS. Why 10 yrs? Mostly to save money. I was working full time & my employer has tuition reimbursement, so each semester I was only out the $100 or so for my fees & whatever I spent on books. Savings = about $450 per class. It was not uncommon for me to rent/buy one semester’s textbooks from 3 different places to save the most. My last semester was the most expensive @ $105 for 3 classes. About $80 of that was for a Bio text. My cheapest semester was about $17, also for 3 classes. On avg 1 semester’s books = $25-$35. If you’re willing to put forth about 30 minutes of effort & use more than one website you too can have a $17 textbook semester. My favorite places to get cheap textbooks are Amazon, Chegg, & Half.com. I have also rented from B&N (Nook Study app), but I prefer Chegg overall for rentals. If you have a laptop for class I would HIGHLY recommend getting Evernote & StudyBlue accounts. They’re free, accessible from any computer, & very valuable study tools. MS OneNote is a good tool too if your copy of Office came w/ it. Before I found Evernote I used it often & liked it fine. One last thing I took advantage of is drastically reduced software prices through IU. We were allowed to buy ONE copy of any/all versions of MS Windows & Office for $20. We could also download & use the entire Adobe Creative Suite for free while a student & use Lynda.com for free as well along w/ other software. Check your campus bookstore to find your school’s deals. ;) The Adobe deal alone saved me about $1800.

  4. Melissa

    BTW, Chegg will often buy back your textbooks & so far I’ve found they pay the most. Not to say that’s true in every case, but it was in all the cases I tried.

  5. Meghan A

    I always bought the international version when I could. Technically it’s illegal to sell them in the US so the resale could be tricky if you’re one to care about that sort of thing, but it was great (and as soft cover books, they were lighter too)!

  6. Melanie

    Rita, I didn’t forget about that! You just have to be careful because page numbers and sometimes content (especially in the sciences) can change! Thanks for the tips!

  7. Christy Stone

    Many colleges offer textbook help for non-traditional students (older than 30 in most cases) consisting of a lending library of sorts. You just sign your name saying you will return the book when you are finished. Sometimes it is an earlier edition and sometimes what you need one’s available. It is certainly worth asking about though. Last year my psychology book rental would have been close to $200 but the adult program let me use it for free. Can’t beat that!

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  10. ofer

    The key is buy used and then sell back. That usually will be half the price of renting.

    Even better – use an older edition of the textbook – often the new edition is just a minor reorganization. Ask the instructor if it would work for your class.



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