10 Tricks to Get Cheaper Textbooks (Because Tuition is Expensive Enough!)

When I went back to school some years ago I expected tuition to be higher, and it was.  That wasn’t a shock though.  I know that tuition goes up every year and how expensive it is.  I was prepared for that.

Know what shocked me?  I was shocked at how expensive textbooks had become!

I found that some textbooks were easily $100+, some lots more.  I quickly realized I had to figure out how to get cheaper textbooks!

Here are some great ways to save on your textbooks and get them for less:

how to save on textbooks

1. Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble

I check these places first to get an idea of what used copies of the textbook is going for (used textbooks are the way to go since new ones tend to be full price).  I like the interfaces on these sites and since I’ve already been using them for years I trust them.  I’ve bought books from both and have never had any problems.  The books were clean and showed up on time.  With Amazon you get to search third-party sellers and you can see their review ratings to get an idea about a company’s or individual’s business.

2. Online used textbook company

In recent years a ton of used textbook companies have emerged, offering up used copies of textbooks at significant discounts.  It’s worth checking out these sites for both the discounts and because sometimes an edition can be hard to find and only these companies have a copy.  For sure this is similar to getting a book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble but I separate them out here since they strictly deal in textbooks.

Some reputable used textbook sellers to check out are: Bookbyte and eCampus.

3. Rent the textbook

A new type of textbook company has sprung up – the textbook rental company.

The idea here is you rent the textbook for one semester then return it.  This way you don’t have to concern yourself with selling a book after the class ends or being stuck with the book if the edition changes before the next semester.  Make sure you return the book or you could be charged full price for it.  Some textbook rental companies to check out are: Chegg, College Book Renter, BookRenter, and Campus Book Rentals.

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Another company I have used is CengageBrain.  I had an economics class that required the book from them and I had to do the homework through their portal.

4. Get the Online Edition

Many publishers are taking advantage of advances in technology, what with the growing tablet and laptop market, and are offering up online editions of their books.

This could be great if you’d rather not deal with carrying another 15 pound textbook around with you.  Pull up your book on your iPad, or other device, and you have your textbook at your fingertips.

I’ve seen publishers do different things with online editions.  Some give you a copy of the book that’s yours to keep while others give you access to the book for the semester (you’re basically renting the book online).  There may be instances where you need a certain program to use the book or you need to access it through the publisher’s site.

Usually the online edition ends up cheaper than the hardcopy.

5. Notices in School

I always see notices up on boards in the hallways from students selling their books from last semester.  Keep an eye out and you can snag a textbook at a deep discount and you can also pick the seller’s brain about how the class was!

6. Library

Most teachers will have at least one copy of the textbook on reserve in the school library.  If you have the time to get to the library, this can be a great way to save on the textbook.  Keep in mind though that there may be other people looking for the book too and you can only study from the book while at the library (you usually can’t take them out).

I’ve also had success with e-editions of literature books I was able to borrow from libraries.

7. Go Half With Another Student

Have a friend in class?  Make one!

An option for students is to go half on the textbook and share it.  This can easily cut your book expense in half on an already discounted used book.  Benefit here is expense but the drawback is sharing the book and coming up with a schedule.  This plan can also give you a study partner for the semester too!

8. Buy an Older Edition

Sometimes a publisher releases a new edition because the material becomes outdated (imagine a book on the economy the past 30 years!).  Other times though, a publisher releases a new book just to get people to buy more new books.

Publishers know that students buy used textbooks and after some time the publisher isn’t selling new books anymore.  Enter the new edition.

But you know what?

Sometimes the new edition doesn’t have much different from the older editions.  Maybe the page numbers are off or there are wording differences, but the content is the same.

Talk with your professor and see if the older edition is usable.  You can really save significantly here.  An older edition can make for one cheap textbook.  (I had a professor that gave out homework assignments that included the question numbers from the old edition!)

Do keep in mind that some new editions really do have new content!

9. Buy the International Edition

Did you know that some textbooks have an international edition?  And did you know that some of these editions are EXACTLY the same as the U.S. edition in content?

Yup, it’s true.

The only differences may be cosmetic.  In my experience the international edition may have a soft cover rather than a hard cover, which to me is a bonus since the book won’t be as heavy.  These books come at a nice discount to the U.S. editions.

Make sure that the international edition is, in fact, the same though.  You don’t want to be stuck with a book that is different.  Also keep in mind that it could be a little more difficult to sell the book but it may be worth it for the initial discount!

One semester I had to buy a calculus book.  I don’t know if it’s true everywhere but it seems calculus books are always expensive.  Anyway, I was able to get an international copy of the book I needed that was close to half off.  Except for the cover the book was identical to the U.S. edition.

10. Don’t Buy the Textbook

Talk to your professor.  Most times a professor is required to assign a book to the class even though it won’t be used much.

Many times I’ve taken a class and barely cracked open the book. What a waste!

See from the professor how much the book will be used.  You may be surprised to find out you don’t need the book.  That is significant savings!  (I had one professor who told us what the book would be then basically gave the ole “wink, wink, nod, nod” and inferred that the book wouldn’t really be used.)

Talking to students who took the class before could be useful if the professor won’t give a definite answer (sometimes they have a financial interest in a book).  You may be able to get by without the book, go to the library to study, or borrow the book from a fellow student when needed (be nice and chum up to a few students in class).

Finally

Sometimes you have to suck it up and buy a new textbook.  (One new twist I’ve seen is that you need a code, CD, or online access for additional work that only comes with a new book.)  But most times you can save significantly and get your college textbooks for less with a little bit of research and by shopping around!

Do you have any other tips for getting textbooks for less?  What has worked for you?

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Published or updated August 2, 2013.

Comments

  1. The two things I did in college that helped me a lot were using the library, which saved me hundreds of dollars over the course of just 1 or 2 semesters, and getting books from students who took the class the previous semester. It helps a lot to have friends in similar majors. I knew 5-10 kids in every class and was always able to get their books for cheap. It saved them the trip to the store (or the effort of trying to sell it online) and it saved me a bunch over the next cheapest price I could get.

  2. The other option is buying a book from another student. Or eBay’s half.com is a great resource as well.

  3. Buying them online is a great way to save money. Now more textbooks are starting to come as ebooks that can be printed and will cost even less.

  4. I use half.com to buy mine at steep discounts and then try to sell them back to the school bookstore (which can mean you get more back than you bought them for). You can get in trouble with older and international editions because your numbering and content may be slightly different than others. However, if you can use the copy in the library for those differences, it should all work in your favor.

    • Textbook arbitrage!

      I used to sell my books back then go buy used CD’s. It seemed like the most bang for my buck at the time (and helped me build up a nice CD collection).

  5. I agree with Jenna and Gobankingrates, Half.com is the cheapest place for the textbooks we couldn’t find at the library 90% of the time.

    • Why haven’t I looked there before?!? I know I’ll be needing at least one book this semester so I’ll give it a try.

  6. I would also never buy a textbook before the actual class starts. Wait until you have at least been to the first lecture, where the professor will most likely tell everyone whether it is truly necessary to buy the textbook or not.
    Plus, utilise you library, most of the time there will be at least a few copies available. You might not be able to hire it for the entire semester, but you may at least be able to hire it at important times, such as when you need to write an assignment, or to study for the exam.

  7. Half.com is an incredible resource! It saved me a ton of money in textbooks.

    I used to also go up to the upperclassmen that had the course I was about to take and ask them for their books right after their finals. Nothing beat getting first crack at it when there was such as small pool of books at my small college.

  8. Do a Google search for “free online textbooks,” as there are many textbooks available online. I agree with the posters who mentioned that books are sometimes assigned and hardly used in the course. It’s very expensive and frustrating when you’re given a list of books to buy only to later find out that you don’t really need most of them.

  9. Dave Higgs-Vis says:

    I’ve found tip #10 to be the most useful. I remember I had a nutrition class that “required” a $150 textbook that we never once used. Luckily, I didn’t buy it, but a number of my friends did.

    Schools have to make money, I guess. It’s pretty lame, though.

  10. alysa@impulsesave.com says:

    Amazon is amazing! I always find great deals there. But what’s cool is that they just started doing virtual textbook rentals. So you can rent your textbooks and keep them on your Kindle or Laptop, and you only pay for the time you need them! So you not only save money, you save trees and your back too!

  11. I would try not to buy the textbook as often as possible. When I knew that the book was essential I would buy it used and split the cost by sharing the book with another student.

  12. My strategy was to email each prof. before school started and ask them if the older editions of their texts could be used in their classes. Most said that the previous edition was close enough to the newest edition that they could be used instead.

    • Glen Craig says:

      Great idea! I’ve found some professors are really cool with using an older edition. Some though, would rather you get the newest one, usually with minimal updates but I suspect the professor gets a kickback for each sold.

  13. Just had my first day of class! Unfortunately, all my profs want a book. Just bought a copy off Amazon…they were the cheapest after some price checking for my particular edition etc.

  14. Glenn, I’m addicted to Amazon. Just bought a used book today. I go for kindle, new and used and love the convenience.

  15. This doesn’t always work, but in graduate school, I was often able to find books at our public library (‘not the university library, but the convenient county library by my house!).

  16. I always like to rent the text book. Saves so much money!

    • Glen Craig says:

      Renting does seem convenient.

      • Laura Bowman says:

        Renting is REALLY convenient. I started school last fall after a 30-year break, and was amazed to find I could rent textbooks. So, instead of paying $120 for an Economics text, I went to chegg.com and rented it for about $30. It arrived within a few days, and included instructions to save the box it came in.

        At the end of the semester, I was able to pack it up in the same box, and then I went to chegg.com and printed the free shipping label off their web site, and dropped it off at a UPS counter. (I use Office Depot for UPS shipping, but any UPS outlet will do.) As soon as Chegg got notified my book was on the way back, they sent me an acknowledgement email that included 10% off my next rental. Couldn’t be easier!

        • Glen Craig says:

          Thanks for sharing your experience. I had one economics textbook that actually held its value by the end of the semester so renting does sound like a good value.

  17. As a recent graduate, I used a lot of these tips especially the ‘halving with a friend’. My roommate and I shared a lot of courses and we shared most of the books. Kindle also helped a lot since a good number of course readings were available in Kindle editions which were significantly cheaper than the hard cover versions.

    The best part is that once the courses were over, we were able to sell most of the books to the incoming students thereby reducing our book costs to bare minimum

  18. Depending on the situation and course you are taking, you might not even need the given textbook really, as most information is available out there free on the Internet if you know how to search for it, so that option might also be worth checking out.

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