How To Save Money On Your College Textbooks

How To Save Money On Your College Textbooks

College and university textbooks are painfully pricey. Painfully. And to make it worse, some college teachers have an annoying habit of changing textbooks from one year to the next for the same course, so you can’t even count on making back some of that money by selling off your barely-used textbook to your roommate’s younger brother at the end of term.

We won’t even talk about the prof who makes you buy a couple bricks that cost a month’s rent, then never actually uses them in class!

If you want to get your money’s worth from your post-secondary education, but you don’t want to live on pocket lint and ramen noodles all second semester, here are some realistic ideas for saving money on the cost of your college textbooks.

Shelves of books

Go for Used Textbooks

Obviously, a lightly used textbook is just as good as a new one fresh off the shelf, as long as it’s the same edition that your instructor has listed for your course. So it’s got a sticky fingerprint on page 240, no big deal, when you think about the real cost of the book in terms of interest paid on your student load. Ouch!

Here’s a HUGE tip. Don’t buy your second semester books until all the party boys have had a chance to blow their full term’s spending money and are looking for a quick sale of anything they’ve got to spare – textbooks included – to keep the good times rolling.  They’ll take a rock-bottom price on those textbooks, then – what you’d call a real buyer’s market.

As well, there will inevitably be some students who drop out of school and want to sell their textbooks. Keep a close eye on Craigslist, Kajiji, and other location-specific classifieds sites for the textbooks you need, as well as the local used-book stores, once the school year starts to get well underway.

Online, check out Amazon for used books, of course, but also eBay’s for used textbook deals, though it is not as cheap as it used to be a couple years ago.

Share Your Textbooks

Risky, but it can work to compare your course sign-up list with your roommates and friends, and figure out where buying one book will do for everyone. Beware of sharing books in a course where the reading load is likely to be heavy, though, or there can be serious disagreements over who gets which book on what night, with an assignment deadline coming up fast!

If you can work it so you take the course one term and your roomie takes it the next term, so you won’t both need the text at the same time, then textbook sharing can be a good cheap solution.

And don’t forget about the college library! In some cases (Eng Lit more than Engineering, obviously) it will be worth checking out the local public library, too.

Books by RLHyde, on Flickr (

Do reserve the books you need ahead of when you’ll need them, if at all possible, and have a back-up plan in case someone doesn’t return his books on time, so you won’t be left high and dry.

Rent an e-Textbook

Kindle Textbook Rental beats the pants off buying big fat expensive print textbooks you’ll use for one course (maybe) and never need again. We’re talking about up to 80% off the cost of printed textbooks! Not to mention the advantages for searching the text and taking notes in digital format.

Electronic textbooks formatted for reading on the Kindle ebook reader can typically be rented for any length between 30 to 360 days – you pay only for the time you need. And if you need to keep it longer, you can extend the rental for as long and as often as you need to – even if that means keeping the book just 1 day longer than you’d planned – and just pay for the extra days.

Or, if you find a textbook that’s a real page-turner you want to keep in your library forever, you can choose to buy your rental ebook at any time. Uh huh, like that’s going to happen.

No Kindle? No Problem.

But did you know, you don’t need to own a Kindle to read a Kindle book? Amazon has free Kindle reading apps you can download to read your textbooks wherever it’s most convenient for you. Apps are available – did I mention, free? – for your computer or laptop (PC or Mac), as well as iPad, Android, or, of course, you can actually use a Kindle ebook reader.

To get started, search for your textbook in the Textbooks Store at If there’s a Kindle edition you can rent, you’ll see that option listed in the Formats section on the textbook page.

Portable PDF Viewers: iPad, iPhone, and Kindle by Yutaka Tsutano, on Flickr 9

More Digital Textbook Options

It ain’t all Amazon/Kindle in the e-textbook field, however.

Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Study lets you try an e-textbook free for 7 days before you decide whether you want to buy it. You can save up to 60% off the print list price of the books you do buy, and you don’t need to own a Nook ebook reader – the free B&N reading app is available for both PC and Mac.  Kobo Books also has e-textbooks, of course, with deals for students,  but to date I’ve found the selection a good deal more limited than on B&N, and Amazon still has the widest selection across all disciplines.

A few of the larger individual publishers with digital publishing programs are sorting out ways to loan out books instead of selling them outright, so it might pay to check the websites of whatever companies put out the textbooks that have been assigned for your course, although it seems still early days for the slow-moving dead-tree industry to embrace the digital to an extent that’s of real use to the poor college student.

Alternatively, operates a kind of marketplace for both print textbooks and e-textbooks. You can choose whether you want to rent the book or to buy it, and also lets you offer your books for re-sale via the site when you’re done with them. I’ve not used Chegg myself, personally, but as the Keith’s beer ads used to say, “those who like it… like it a lot.”

I’m also hearing some good things about NelsonBrain, and especially it’s e-chapters section where you can pick up digital versions of selected chapters as needed, like for those classes where the prof has assigned a book but will actually end up using only one tiny bit of it.

What’s your best tip to save money on college textbooks?

Photo credits: Tiffany Bailey, Brooke Raymond, Ryan Hyde, and Yutaka Tsutano.


likes to make and do and think and explore and share what is discovered. She is also incurably curious. If you are, too, you can find her posting as Flycatcher...r...r on Twitter and Google Plus.

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