Professional Education and Career Blog

How to Save Money on Textbooks

bookstackMany people realize their campus bookstore is going to cost the most when it comes to getting their textbooks, and buying new from the bookstore is going to be the highest of all. The sticker shock of seeing those books isn’t good for your blood pressure, either. Generally it pays to stay away from there if you can manage it.

Buy Used

The truth is, there are many sources of textbooks, and a simple online search for “used textbooks” will turn up numerous resellers. If you can find a used textbook in good condition, that is almost always going to be a better deal than getting a new version of your textbook. Reputable book dealers will usually filter out the really bad books, so it’s often a good way to beat the system.

The one caveat is that many colleges and universities try and defeat the used market by making subtle changes year-to-year, just enough to make it inconvenient to rely on a used book. Be sure and check the edition before buying.

And don’t forget about eBay – many times college students will list their books for sale at the end of semesters on eBay, and that can be a fantastic way to score a great deal.

Use an Older Edition

Alongside buying used to simply to use an older edition of a book. This may require some searching in the book to locate the same information that the teacher is talking about, but a little extra legwork can pay off handsomely in your bank account.

Find a Student From the Prior Semester

One way to save some money even over the used market is to buy a used book from a recent student. These students are usually looking to unload their books, and if you catch them at the right time, you can make a private sale at the price that the used book site would pay, rather than the price you would pay from the used book site.


One great option that works for a lot of courses is setting up a group study, where you each chip in for a single copy of the book. You can arrange study schedules so that you each have a turn (or study together), or in the cases where you have information that you want available going forward, you can scan or even photograph the pages involved.

Some professors might insist that you have your book on-hand during class, so it’s good to check if this option will work for your particular class.


Thankfully, some publishers are entering into the 21st century and offering their textbooks as e-books. Unfortunately, sometimes these editions can be just as expensive as the paper editions. But a relatively new idea is that the e-book is given to you temporarily, and disappears off your e-reader at the end of the course. This allows the publisher to charge less, since it removes the used book market and gives them more of a continuing stream of income. With the pressure on colleges to cut costs for students, some publishers are looking at this as a way for everyone to win.

Amazon recently launched textbook rentals for its Kindle devices, so that may be a place to start to see what the prices look like.

booksWait to Buy

One thing to keep in mind is that sometimes a textbook is used very little, or even isn’t used at all in the class, even though it appears on the class list. Often it can be a good idea to wait until the class starts to see if the book is really going to be necessary. It may be that only a few assignments need the book, and you can find a copy of the book in the library, or just borrow a copy from someone else for just that assignment. You may be able to just get along without it.

Check the International Edition

Oftentimes textbooks have a different editions for different countries, and they have only minor changes or possibly no changes at all. The textbooks from overseas can be prices dramatically differently than the ones you might see in the United States, so it can pay off to check some foreign bookseller web sites.