5 Ways to Save Money on College Textbooks

It’s no secret that college tuition costs are going up each year. To make matters even worse, students are forced to purchase textbooks that can cost $200 or more. I had a few textbooks during my college days that I barely even opened. No it wasn’t by choice, instead my professor didn’t even end up using them.

I think one of the most frustrating things was that it seemed like every semester there would be a new edition released, which meant the edition I owned would have no resale value. You can rent or buy them, but regardless of what you do, below are some tips to help you spend a little less money on textbooks and add more money to other areas of your college budget.

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Shop Online

Instead of paying premium prices at your schools campus bookstore, head online. Places like Amazon, Half Price Books or Barnes & Noble usually offer great deals on textbooks at the beginning of each semester. Make sure that you opt for the used editions because you can save almost 50 percent off of the new book price.

If you want to save even further, you can use sites that offer textbook coupons to further reduce your costs.

Rent Your Books

I have a couple of textbooks that I decided to hold onto once I was done with the class. Guess how many times I have opened them in the seven years since I graduated. If you guessed zero, then you are spot on. Be more sensible than I was and consider not buying any of your textbooks and just rent them.

I did a little research on Amazon for an accounting book and you can save as much as $162 just by renting a textbook compared to buying the book new. If you wanted to buy the book new it would cost you $194.43. If you instead decided to rent it for the semester, then it would only cost you $45.75. Pretty big savings, huh? Well, if you have a kindle enabled device you can rent it for just $32.86. That is a pretty big savings just by making the choice to rent instead of buy.

Share Books

I used to have a group of guys who were always in most of my business school classes. We used to work together on our assignments and study for the exams. If you have friends in classes with you then you should take this a step further and share the cost of the textbook. Instead of both renting the textbook, you could share it. One of you could take it one night and the other would get it the next. Not only would you keep up on the assigned readings, but you will also have put the cost of the textbook right back in your pocket.

Get Them at Your Campus Library

Most of the time professors will put a couple of copies of the class textbook in the school library. If the class has 500 people in it this would mean some serious competition for the available copies. You might want to try sending your professor an email or stopping by his office before class starts and asking him what the textbook for the class will be. This could give you a head start on your classmates and end up saving you the cost of needing to buy or rent it.

Pay Cash

The first part of every semester is the worst financially for most college students. Your tuition bill is due, you have rent and you might be going out with friends a little more than normal right after summer break. No matter how tempting it might be, don’t pull out the student credit card. If you are unable to pay it off at the end of the month, the finance charges will just make that textbook even more expensive.

The Bottom Line

College textbooks can be a huge expense for a college student. Luckily, there are options that allow you to spend your hard earned money on things other than textbooks.

Editor’s Note: I wish I would have been smarter when buying textbooks in college. I did my best to buy used but it NEVER dawned on me to try sharing them or renting them. Saving money is a great thing and finding ways to save money while in college is even more important. Avoid the debt, be frugal, be wise!

Picture by FreeDigitalPhotos


  1. I remember having the biggest sticker shock when I bought my first college textbooks. Mind you it was some years ago and I can only imagine how expensive they are now. I have a few more years until my oldest child hits college and thanks for the tips!

  2. I think online shopping is one of the best ways to save when you purchase college textbooks. Yes, you can also opt for rentals especially if you lack the budget. These are good pointers for college freshmen.

  3. Great tips! When I was in college, I was able to save money on my textbooks by renting them on various online bookstores. There are a few times when I also shared textbooks from my study group in school. Doing these things helped me save hundreds of dollars in textbook expenses alone.

  4. Joe Morgan says:

    I wish we had so many options when I went to school. The only way to save money on textbooks when I went to college was to buy used, and those sold fast.

    Thanks for making me feel old(er)! 😉

  5. I’ve also found that eBook versions tend to be far cheaper than the printed versions.

    The only other big suggestion that I would add is to remember to sell your books when you are done. You can lower the over all cost dramatically and there are few textbooks that you need for life.

  6. A great way to save money on Text Books is to buy international edition books overseas and ship them to you.

    If you can find out what textbooks are required for your classes early and then buy them overseas before the semester starts you will receive them in time for a fraction of the cost.

    Another great tip is to buy several copies of these books with your classmates to share on shipping costs.

    Finally if you really want to save some money – Use downloadable PDF’s (I never did this for several reasons but you are paying a large amount of money to go to school to learn and not having an easy to use book can really impact that!)

    Some of these strategies are in the grey zone of legality but when you are a student with your back up against a financial cliff these can be huge savings that make a real difference!

    Thanks for sharing your tips.

  7. Jackie says:

    My son has 2 AP College course as a sophomore in High School. We bought his books from others students who took the classes the year before.

  8. When I went through schools I always purchased my books on Ebay’s subsidiary. The best case scenario was however to just share a book with classmates. Sometimes our books would only be used once or twice the entire duration of the class. I ended up using my purchased books as punishment for making stupid decisions (ie smack my head into them)

  9. Man, I’ve never thought of renting college textbooks while there. I did however, always sell them at the end of the year – except for a few engineering books that I wanted to hold onto.

    I always thought that college textbooks were a bit of a rip off and more of a money-making venture than helping students learn. I have nothing against making money, but the prices were pretty crazy on books I thought were worthless, IMO.

  10. Michelle says:

    I always either bought used or rented my books. It saved so much money!

  11. Mackenzie says:

    It seems like forever and a day since I was in college, but I remember the frustration at trying to sell a textbook and getting less than half the value.

    I had a professor one semester, who let us use an older edition of the book required for the class. He actually told us, that the new edition only added 2 new pages and said it was ridiculous to buy the new version simply because of the addition of 2 more pages. We were so grateful to him.

  12. I can certainly relate to this as the parent of two current college students and one recent (2010) grad. The kids have been good about finding come of the cheaper routes that you mentioned such as renting. Also at one point in my career I was the Director of Finance for the College textbook publishing arm of a major publisher. We wouldn’t even consider launching a new textbook that didn’t have an ROI of at least 40%.

  13. MomofTwoPreciousGirls says:

    I recall standing in line to sell a book back and they offered me $8 (I spent $180 the prior semester) bc a “new edition” was released. Then behind me was a girl they wanted to charge $200 for the new book. I went right to the girl and GAVE her my book, whole she was in line. The cashier was NOT happy with me, but the girl was near tears grateful!

    Chegg.com is another great resource my sister has used for her college textbook rentals.

  14. Some really great tips there!
    I know I saved a small fortune when I was doing my studies by buying second hand books and then selling them once I was done.

  15. These are all great options. When I was in college, online sites such as half.com and ecampus.com were just starting up. I took a chance on them and was surprised by how easy and cheap books were. I remember buying books in the campus store for $500 total but online I could get them for half that price.

    The best part though was selling them on the site after I was done with the course. I could get close to what I paid for the book by selling it to another student. Half.com even reimburses you a portion of the shipping fee.

    The only concern is getting the correct edition. I’ve never had it happen to me where the professor changed their mind at the last minute and bought the wrong book, but I’m sure it does happen.

  16. Thad P says:

    These tips work well for private schools where parents buy text books for their kids. We worked out a situation with a family with a child one grade ahead of ours to share cost. We buy half of each book.

  17. Great tips. I worked in the college bookstore on my campus while in school and you’d be amazed at the markup. Seeing how the “sausage was made” taught me a lesson early on to buy online or share the books.

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