Tips for Saving Money on Textbooks

I was once a poor student like yourself. To save up enough cash for Ramen noodles, a Netflix subscription and tickets to my favorite music venues, I had to get pretty creative with my textbook expenses. What I learned is that there are plenty of resources beyond your campus bookstore to help you obtain the books you need at a price you can afford.

So here are some tips to help you save money on textbooks this school year:

1. Buy USED books. I can’t stress this enough, people. Used textbooks are significantly cheaper than brand new shiny textbooks, and there are many companies that even sell “remainder” copies, that are like new and half the price. Almost any book site allows you to enter a single or multiple ISBN(s) so you can search quickly and easily for the texts you need. Also, you can compare prices directly on site or using a price-comparison website. Just remember: BUY EARLY! Don’t wait until the day before class starts to order your textbooks–get the reading list from your teacher as soon as possible. This will lower your shipping costs and waiting times, and you won’t get caught without the book on the first day of class. Extra tip: check the book website for applicable coupons before checkout to help you save even more money.

PROS: You save money. Lots of money. You can sometimes order most or all the books you need from a single bookseller, thus saving shipping costs, too. And this doesn’t apply to just textbooks–you can get your required classics, Shakespeare, philosophy texts, business guru memoirs, etc. all in one place.

CONS: You do run the risk of receiving a book with some highlighting, margin notes, torn pages, or missing supplemental materials, such as CD-Roms or InfoTrac access, so BE SURE TO READ THE DESCRIPTION BEFORE YOU BUY IT.

2. Support Your Fellow Student. Check student bulletin boards at the beginning and end of each semester. Many students will sell their books directly to other students because a) they can’t sell their book back to the bookstore or b) the bookstore will only buy it back at about 1/10th of the original price.

PROS: No anxious waiting for a book to arrive in the mail. No outrageous spending at the campus bookstore. Sometimes you can bargain with the student who is selling the book for a cheaper price, but remember: they need money for food, too.

CONS: These books tend to go fast, so if you see a book you need that’s listed by another student, call them right now and let them know you’re interested in buying it. This system operates on a typical first-come, first-serve basis.


3. Go “International.” Check with your teacher to see if you can use an International Edition textbook for your class. An International Edition (or IE, if you want to sound hip) textbook has been published at a lower production cost for sale in foreign markets. Distributors overseas then re-sell the titles to customers in other parts of the world at a much lower price. International editions may be softcovers with black and white illustrations, and may not include cd-roms, or other supplementary material. IE’s are clearly marked as such on with a box next to the title that says “International Edition” as well as within the description itself.

PROS: These textbooks save students an average of 50% over the prices offered at their college bookstores.

CONS: Since these are usually shipped overseas, you need to buy them a few weeks ahead of time to make sure you receive them for your class.

4. Find A Local Bookstore. When in doubt, check with your local independent and chain bookstores to see if one or more of your books are available there. There’s a good chance you can find non-textbook reading requirements at a decent price.

5. Make Friends With Your Library. Yes, you read that correctly. Ask your professor if they can provide 2-3 rotational copies at the special checkout or class section of your campus library. You can usually buddy up with a student in class to share the text for the rest of the semester. And for goodness’ sake, if you haven’t been to your local library by now, then don’t waste any more time. Getting a library card only takes a few minutes, you can check out books for up to 3 weeks at a time (depending on their guidelines) and you automatically get a quiet place to read and study.

PROS: This is an absolutely free service, unless you build up some library fines for overdue books.

CONS: High demand for a classroom book may deplete both of these resources, or your teacher may not be able to provide copies at the campus library for class use. But it doesn’t hurt to try.

For more tips on buying used textbooks online, check out our Textbooks section.

One thought on “Tips for Saving Money on Textbooks”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.