How to save money on textbooks

In my first year of college, textbooks cost me an astounding $800.  That’s an absolutely disgusting amount for something that I might use once a week.  And that was only one year of school!  I think I ended up needed only a handful of chapters (if that) out of each textbook.

Schools will encourage you to buy books through the college bookstore, but that is definitely not your only source of textbooks.  I didn’t get it right the first few years I was in school, but I’d like to think that I smartened up a little  😉

Photo Credit: LifeSupercharger via Flickr

Photo Credit: LifeSupercharger via Flickr

  1. Libraries: Take advantage of the library, both on campus and your local public libraries.  During my ethics class, I was required to purchase a $150 book of case studies.  Um, no thanks!  I found the book at the campus biomedical library and borrowed it for the whole semester.  Score!  I’ve also been able to find many of my English books at the local city library.
  2. eBook: Many resources are easily found online in eBook format.  For example, many classic texts are freely available online.  Just download them to your computer, tablet or eReader and you’ll have your textbooks on the go!  Even when you do have to pay, eBooks tend to be at least a bit cheaper than the physical copies.
  3. Friends and family: I have tried to help out my friends by giving them or lending them my old textbooks.  Chances are, you know someone in your social circle that has taken that class or a similar class.  Why not post a quick Facebook message and ask around?  You might score a few free books for the term.
  4. Online: Finally, for science and math textbooks, the cheapest option that I have found is to buy them on eBay from an international seller.  I’ve found international copies of textbooks for less than a quarter of the North American price.  The content is always the same – usually only the cover (and the price!!!) is different.  Most of the sellers I’ve used have come from India.  They are generally very pleasant to deal with and are quite reliable and fast for shipping.  Give it a try!

Where would you go for cheap or free textbooks?  Any other suggestions that I may have missed?

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26 Comments

  1. Brian says:

    I’m starting a course this fall which will likely require a couple of books. I’m hoping to get them at the library or online!!

  2. The last year that I was in school, digital textbooks became a big thing. It was exactly what it sounds like – and only a fraction of the cost of buying the hard cover. The only downside is that access to the text book expires in four months – so using the textbook as a reference is out the window.

    • CF says:

      The only thing I never liked about digital textbooks was the digital part. I like having a physical book that I can flip through and reference. For some reason, book marking pages in a digital copy never really had the same effect on me.

  3. Stefanie says:

    Great tips! I’ll definitely be sharing these with all my friends heading back to school in the fall! I used to try selling my textbooks after each semester, but they update them so often, they become obsolete!

  4. Michelle says:

    Renting textbooks is usually much cheaper than buying them, and then you don’t have to worry about the a new edition being published also!

    • CF says:

      The only downside to renting is that you don’t get to keep the textbook as a reference later on. In some fields, it probably wouldn’t matter, but I found that I used a lot of old comp sci textbooks as references in later classes.

  5. I remember being Amazon’s best friend when I had to purchase textbooks for college. It was so much cheaper then. Its crazy you can rent textbooks now. I wish I had that option.

  6. My wife sold all her textbooks online when she finished school. It was a great way to save money. I sold a couple but still need mine for reference.

  7. ofer says:

    Another method to save is to buy a used copy of the previous edition. The changes may be insignificant your class, but the savings great.

    See for example the popular introduction textook : Biology. The list price of the latest, 9th edition costs $213, but can be bought used at Half.com for $70 + shipping:

    Price Comparison: 9780321558237

    The previous edition (only two years older) can be bought used for $12 + shipping :

    Price Comparison: 9780805368444

    You can see how the price is lower for the previous edition. The textbook publisher will put out a new edition in November:

    New 10th edition : Price Comparison: 9780321775658

    As soon as it comes out, the value of the 9th edition will drop to the $10-20 and the 8th likely to $2-5.

    -Ofer
    The Cheap Textbook

  8. Great post! My husband pretty much downloads all textbooks to the ipad now. It saves so much money!

    • CF says:

      And saves his back too, no doubt. 😀
      Being able to carry all your textbooks with you all the time in a little ereader or ipad makes it so much easier to study or reference notes.

  9. In the US I think there is a law that professors have to list the books needed for the semester a certain amount of time before the class begins. This gives you plenty of time to check Amazon and other places to see if you can get cheaper versions of textbooks. If I ever have to go to grad school I definitely will be looking to save money on my textbooks.

  10. The cost of textbooks has gotten ridiculous! Buying used is almost always the best bet if you can find the book you need.

  11. Pauline says:

    During the first week of college there was a book fair where the 2nd year students sold their used books for a discount. Most professors kept the same book year over year. I bought a few, barely used them and didn’t buy more the next years.

    • CF says:

      That always annoyed me as well, buying textbooks that didn’t get used. I would always try to at least browse through them, but often, the profs would present the material in such a different manner that the textbook would be close to useless.

  12. Using the internet to download rather than buying the whole text book can definitely save money. It can actually assure us that we are also getting the most updated information as well.

  13. I used to save a ton of money on books simply by not buying them. I had a hunch that I didn’t need all of the “required’ books to do well in class, and it turned out I was right. I probably saved myself thousands of dollars!

  14. It is definitely costly to buy all the books (new) you need for each term. I think its great if you could find someone who will be able to lend you the same textbooks that have been used. Using the library books is also a great idea. You can save money and be able to spend it for other school materials.

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