Saving Money on Textbooks

Category Books
A major cost of attending college is purchasing the textbooks needed for your courses. This page is about saving money on textbooks.


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One of the worst "visible" expenses I had to deal with at college was books and supplies. If you're a freshman, you will be knocked directly on your butt at the cost of a semester's worth of "educational materials." If you're an art student, you'll have to sell body parts to get your supplies! :)

The best way to arm yourself against losing money and getting gouged is to know how the "book racket" works.

  1. You sign up for English 101 and obtain your class book list. It has three books on it - an anthology of stories and two separate "one story" books.

  2. You go to the student bookstore to purchase these books, which, if purchased new, will be around $80-$100.

  3. You make it through class, and at the end of the semester you go back to the bookstore to sell back your books. The bookstore offers you $5. $2 for each of the single-story books, and $1 for your anthology.

So, why the discrepancy?

If the publisher comes out with a new edition of the book, your edition becomes worthless. So those $200 chemistry or math books will now be obsolete because the publisher added an extra sentence.

If a professor isn't going to use the book for the next semester, it becomes worthless. Some book buyback people will throw you a dollar or two to take your book (and then they'll turn around and sell it elsewhere for three times as much - or more).

So, what do you do to save cash?

  1. BUY USED. It's okay to have used books. The bookstores won't sell anything that is falling apart. They always have a lot of used copies. Browse them until you find a nice one. I had a book that cost $65 new - I got it for $19.

  2. DON'T LIMIT YOURSELF TO THE STUDENT BOOKSTORE. Get your booklist as soon as possible and shop around. Shop online for new and used. There are websites specifically for college book sales, returns, etc. Some books will be exclusive to your school bookstore. Most are not. Shop around your dorm, too. If it's second semester, there's a good possibility someone is taking the class you just had, and you are taking a class someone else just had. Sell books to each other, have a book swap - do what it takes to save money.

  3. BOOK BUYBACK. You are NOT required to sell your books back to the bookstore. When you are done with the books, go to book buyback to see how much they'll offer. If you think it's good - take it; if not, don't. Sell elsewhere - garage sales, Craigslist. Whatever you do, don't let them take your books for free. I have seen students who will leave their books at the buyback because the bookstore says they won't buy them back (due to reasons stated above). Why would you pay for a book and then return it to them for free. Just because they aren't going to use it at that school doesn't mean they wouldn't box it up and ship it to another school for use. Keep your book and sell it elsewhere. Even 25 cents is more than zero from the bookstore.

And a note to art students - you will be completely gouged by the student bookstore art supply area. Shop elsewhere. Online, at the dollar store (you'd be surprised what you can find) - be creative. You don't need the $100 paint brush. Buy "hues" in oil paint rather than the actual colors. Learn how to stretch your own canvases. Become a scavenger and use unique materials to create art.


By Andrea from Oakland County, MI

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August 21, 2009

If you're looking for second-hand textbooks, check out second-hand book stores and library book sales (I've found brand new textbooks for as little as fifty cents at these sales). You can ask former students and teachers if they're getting rid of their old books.

If you need a bit of extra cash for books, you could also find out if the college bookstore buys back old books.

By Angela L. from Sault Ste Marie, ON

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August 23, 20090 found this helpful
Top Comment

I retired from teaching, and now write stories for youngsters. As a teacher, I used to go to the school depository where all old books were processed and I can assure you that many books get destroyed that are new as well. Most of these book were overstock or old, but still worthy of use. I home schooled my children and found the school an excellent source.


Some schools require that a teacher request the books from the depository, but that usually is not a problem, you can always find a teacher. Libraries, and even book sellers, such as the one in the picture have book barrels or tables for overstock books which is another way to get free or cheap books. My library is stocked with free books. As an author, I keep many books for my friends and neighbors to borrow. Dr Robert E McGinnis

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February 23, 20120 found this helpful
Top Comment

In one semester in college years ago, the cost for my books was over $200 and half of those books were used. I found the used ones not only to be way less expensive but more helpful as students before me had put notes from teacher lectures in the spaces on the pages saving me tons of time with my own notes. (Make sure the notes are similar to what you would have written.)


Our Psych 1 teacher was head of the Psych department for that school & told us to get our textbook where ever we could. It had to be a legitimate textbook but could be severely outdated or whatever, he didn't care. When asked "what if an old textbook has conflicting information?", he responded, "Great! Bring it up in class & we'll discuss why it was changed." We all loved that man for that!

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September 7, 2007

Tips and ideas for saving money on textbooks. Consider not buying the book until you've been to the first session of the class. Sometimes you find out that the professor plans to use the book very little, or not at all.

An open textbook.

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I graduated from college not that many years ago, and picked up a few tips during my years at my university! One of the things I wished I had started doing right away was borrowing textbooks from the campus library . . .

Textbooks in Library

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When going back to college after years, I discovered the college bookstore is a big rip-off. If you go online, like Amazon, amongst others, you can get brand new editions, sometimes called international versions, (same exact book, just looks different on the outside) for a fraction of the price.

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March 6, 2008

My Son is going to college and we are on a tight budget. We found a site that has used books that are cheap.

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June 26, 2008

I am currently attending college and found that the teachers will usually give reading assignments from just a few chapters of the expensive textbooks; however, they are usually known ahead of time when the teacher hands out the syllabus.

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ThriftyFun is one of the longest running frugal living communities on the Internet. These are archives of older discussions.

August 27, 2009
By Kelly Ann Butterbaugh

College is expensive; that's no news to anyone. While many know that scholarships, grants, and community colleges save money, what they may not know are the smaller ways to save money while they're already there. Books can be the costliest expense not covered by financial aid. With some courses totaling $200 in books, the investment for a full course load is overwhelming. How can money be saved?

Shop Around

Many colleges list the required books well in advance of the first days of class. (If they don't, e-mail the professor and ask which books he/she will be using.) Rather than wait in the long line at the bookstore, gather the ISBN numbers (found on the back of books by the barcodeevery book printed has one.) ISBN numbers identify the exact edition of the book so that you can always be sure you purchase the correct version. Start surfing the Internet for cheaper places. Such search guides such as allow you to compare various sellers and their shipping discounts. also offers most texts at reasonable rates (Amazon often offers free or reduced shipping for larger orders.) but what's better is the used rate which is listed there as well. Many books that are listed under new and used are still in the shrinkwrap for almost half price. If on-line shopping isn't making you happy, then order it through your local bookseller who may charge less than the college bookstore. Stores like Barnes & Noble offer cheaper rates and order the book so that you can pick it up at the store and save on shipping.

Do I Really Need It?

Professors list required books for the course intending the students to read the books, not purchase them. See if your local library holds any of the books required for class. Bundles can be saved in literature courses this way. The major downfall is that you cannot write in your text, but that's the decision you make in buying or borrowing.

Again, check on-line. An e-book may be available for a book which will be cheaper than purchasing the hardcopy book. Jump on e-mail and ask you friends if they have the book from a previous course and borrow it from them (or buy it at half price and you're both happy.) Do some brainstorming, and e-mailing, and phoning to see if you can save a few dollars.

Tag Teaming

This method works well for friends who carry the same course load or at least two similar courses. List the books you both need. Then, divvy the list and each of you buys half of it (try to keep the costs even.) You'll need to plan ahead for the readings, but share the books as the semester rolls along. You'll each save half of your book cost, and you'll keep on top of one another to complete the readings on time.

Even though I love to surround myself with books, as a college professor I sympathize with my students' bookstore bills. If they can save a few and still complete their readings, I give them credit for their frugality in an expensive climate.


Saving Money on College Books

Find out in advance, if possible, what you need. Then try ebay. (12/28/2006)

Saving Money on College Books

This is what I do to save money on school books:

  1. You may not need the book for class at all. Make sure before you buy it.

  2. Get the ISBN #'s off the books and shop around!!

  3. After you get done with the book: SELL IT!! I usually sell mine on Amazon. (03/31/2009)

    By Deb

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