The Six Greatest Ways to Save Money on Textbooks


A piggy bank next to a stack of textbooks and the word "fund"

At the beginning of every semester, college students dread looking up the cost of their textbooks. Classes, like physics and calculus, may require new editions of thick, hardcover textbooks that cost well over $100 new. Other courses may require not one, but several separate workbooks or paperbacks that collectively cost more than a typical textbook.

The National Association of College Stores states that students spend an average of $655 on textbooks each year, but the College Board suggests that the annual cost may be over $1,200. Four years of college books, then, may cost upwards of $4,800. Here are some tips to make that number more manageable.

Rent, don’t buy, from your college bookstore.

Unless you want to keep your textbook because it’s directly related to your future career, renting a textbook is an easy way to save money. Though college bookstores don’t offer all of their inventory for rent, you’ll likely find books for general education or introductory classes as rentals. The more students who take a class in order to graduate, the more likely it is that the textbook will be available for rent. Obviously, you have to return the book in good condition at the end of the semester, but you’ll save a pretty penny by renting it instead of buying it.

Buy used.

Textbooks stacked up behind a laptop computerUsed textbooks are always going to be cheaper than new ones, especially if there’s a new edition of the book out. Older editions lose their value pretty quickly once they’re officially outdated, and often the changes between editions are barely noticeable. If you can find a used copy of a slightly older version of the required text, you’ll save a ton of money. Even if you’re buying a used version of the same edition, you’ll save money off the cover price. Check out these websites (which may also offer textbook rentals or electronic editions of some titles):

Use Amazon to your advantage.

Amazon.com is a miracle website when it comes to textbooks. It sells them new (often cheaper than you’d find at your college bookstore) and used (way cheaper than you’d find at your college bookstore). In some cases, Amazon also offers books for rent. Before you decide to get all of your books on campus, check out Amazon’s prices. Another perk is that when the semester is over, you can list your books for sale and hope that other college students come along and buy them from you. If you decide to use Amazon, though, make your purchases well in advance of the beginning of the semester so that there’s plenty of time for shipping. You can also join Amazon Prime Student with a college email address and get free two-day shipping for six months.

Share with a friend.

If you and a friend are taking the same class but neither of you is particularly interested in keeping the textbook beyond the end of the semester, go in on your required textbooks together. Work out a schedule for when each of you will get the book and study together. You’ll have a built-in study buddy and you’ll save money in the process. If you can find the book used or sell it back at the end of the semester and split the cash, even better.

Save money on textbooks by sharing with a friend; students sitting next to each other taking notesCheck your school’s listings.

Your school may have a Buy/Sell/Trade website or Facebook group. Check any listings to see if other students are trying to sell their old textbooks. You’ll get a discount, because it’s used, and you may even be able to negotiate a better price (especially if there is writing or highlighting in the book). Plus, this way you know that your money is going to an individual person instead of a big corporation or publisher. Many times, graduating seniors are just trying to get rid of stuff before they move, so they may cut their prices more than any other source. If you see a listing for a textbook for a class that you know you’ll have to eventually take, grab it up while the getting is good!

Sell your books back.

Many college bookstores and websites will buy back used textbooks at a discounted price if the books are still in moderately good condition. In most cases, you sell the book directly to the company, but you may also have the option to decide on a price and list it as for sale by owner. If you’re interested in the latter option, try listing it on your school’s Buy/Sell/Trade site before turning to Amazon (that way you won’t have to pay shipping). It’s a quick way to earn a little bit of extra cash, and it’ll make buying books next semester less painful.

Textbooks don’t have to be prohibitively expensive, even though they appear that way at first glance. Don’t settle for the first price that you see when there are so many cheaper options out there. Take your time to see what is available, decide if you want to rent or buy, and then go ahead and take out your wallet. Remember, it’s only for four years!


About Megan Clendenon

Megan C. is obsessed with Cincinnati-style chili, Louisville basketball, and Scandinavian crime fiction. She has lived in six different states and held 12 different jobs since beginning her undergraduate degree at Carleton College in 2008. The wanderlust abated somewhat in recent years, as Megan settled in Texas from 2013 to 2016 to finish a master’s degree in geosciences, write a thesis on the future horrors that stem from climate change, and get married. During her free time, you will find Megan sitting on the couch, cheering for her Louisville Cardinals, planning future adventures abroad, and snuggling with her dog, Tiger. She currently lives outside of Washington D.C.

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