Save on Textbooks

If you've ever taken a college class, you probably remember being amazed at how much the textbooks cost.  Even though I've been a student off and on for over 20 years, I was still astonished this semester – my textbooks cost 1/3 the cost of my tuition for the semester!  (And for the winter term, I'm taking a 1 credit class that costs $126 in tuition and fees and requires $126 in books.  Whacko!)  Fortunately, there are lots of ways to lessen the pain of textbook expenses.

  1. Buy your books early.  This will give you the best chance to buy the books used.  Used books at the bookstore are typically about 25% less expensive than new books.  Buying early will give you the best choice of used books and increases the chances that you'll find one in great condition.  Also, some bookstores offer a discount for buying early (usually 2-3 weeks before the semester begins).
  2. Buy online.  The internet has opened up a world of opportunities for buying (and selling) textbooks.  Prices are certainly cheaper – I've found the used books I need for about 25% less than they are being offered at the college bookstore.  There are warnings, of course.  First, be sure you are buying the right edition – textbooks change a lot.  Second, be sure you are taking this class.  Most college bookstores have return policies that allow you to return a book if your schedule changes during the beginning of the semester.  Most online stores won't allow returns for schedule changes.  If you anticipate a possible change in your situation, online shopping may not be the best choice for you.  One site I like: – it scans a variety of websites to offer you good prices.  I don't guarantee that they have the cheapest, but their prices are quite competitive and it beats checking 15 sites.
  3. Check bulletin boards on campus, or your college's online marketplace,to buy a used text directly from another student.  You'll pay less and the seller will get more – its a win-win situation.  Again, however, you probably won't be able to get a refund if your plans change.  If you are currently in classes, let the other students know that you're looking for books – many of you are taking the same classes, but not necessarily in the same order.
  4. Buy access to the online version of the text.  E-books have many advantages and disadvantages.  They are less expensive, but they have no resale value.  Many offer the ability to bookmark, search, or make notes right in the text. Also, some e-books offer access to additional online resources.  However, it can be inconvenient to read online and some have expiration dates or printing restrictions.
  5. Check with your instructor to see if you might be able to use an older edition of the text.  Older editions can often be found for bargain prices at online sites such as Ebay and
  6. Check your college or public library.  Depending on the book, they may be available for in-library use, or possibly even for check-out.  This can be a great way to save the cost of a text, especially if you only need it for a small portion of the semester.
  7. Consider renting your textbook.  This is rarely the best way to go, but it is worth mentioning.  I searched a few texts and discovered that rentals usually cost about half the full price of the book.  I can purchase a copy used copy online for just a few dollars more, and resell it when I'm done (if they are still buying that version.)  Renting may be the best choice if you can't find the book used and you anticipate that it might be changed at the end of your semester.
  8. Consider sharing a text with another student.  This can require some cooperation and communication, but it really cuts down on the costs!

I wish I could figure out a way to make textbooks less expensive overall, but I don't see how that is going to happen.  If you use these tips, however, you should be able to cut your bill by at least 25% and maybe even more. 

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • Laura B

    I use amazon to purchase my textbooks. It saved me over half. I search through the used selection and pay careful attention to the descriptions of the book. Some of them say highlighting, or is missing the CR-ROM that accompanies the book. I wouldn’t buy my books from the college bookstore ever again.

  • Kimberly

    Same here, Amazon is great for textbooks among other things. My books through the University for 2 classes last semester cost over $400(graduate level) and i decided to use amazon for this semester’s texbooks and it cost less than $200. The supersaver shipping also is a plus. Another idea is to check with past students and see if they’ll sell you their books at a lower cost.

  • Patrick

    After comparing prices, I rent texts from Chegg every semester, which has saved me a lot of money. I wanted to share a promotional code to get a discount on your text order. Put in the code when ordering and hit the “apply” button. The code also gives you back an additional $5 when selling Chegg your used texts. The code does NOT have an expiration date so it can be used at anytime.

    Here it is: CC123047

    Feel free to share with other starving students. Become a Chegg Champion to make money for college!