7 Ways to Save Money on Textbooks

At the beginning of a new semester, many college students excitedly purchase new planners, highlighters, and colored pens, attempting to be more organized. Putting their best foot forward, students want to feel prepared to meet their academic goals. Ensuring that you select the right classes, at the right times, with the right professors seems stressful enough, but this is only half the battle to effectively prepare for a successful semester.

Purchasing textbooks often places strain on college students who are already financially strapped. Spending hundreds of dollars on books that you may use for fifteen weeks or less may seem like a waste of precious income. To combat this issue, many students have found methods of obtaining the required texts for their classes without purchasing each material from the campus bookstore at full retail price.

I have personally used many of the techniques listed below and have saved hundreds of dollars by doing so. In my first semester of my freshman year, I spent over three hundred dollars on books alone. After this stressful experience, I was determined to find another way to acquire the books I needed without spending large quantities of money. With some help from friends and classmates, I have compiled the following list of seven ways to save money on college textbooks:

1. Dodge the Bookstore If You Can Help It

In some cases, the textbook required for a given class may only be available through the campus bookstore. If a professor wrote the text personally, for example, large retailers such as Barnes and Noble or Amazon probably would not carry the item. Often times, however, you can find alternate ways to attain the book with the ISBN number alone. The campus bookstore usually offers textbooks at full retail price. In addition, it may be difficult to obtain an item on backorder. You may also find yourself waiting in lines fifteen people deep to pick up your books.

Additionally, if the campus bookstore offers an option to rent textbooks, this may seem beneficial at first, but this method can also have its challenges. Some bookstores may require the student to pay shipping costs, which can equal almost as much as the textbook alone. Others may have “turn in dates” where every student who rents a book from the bookstore attempts to return their items on the same day. This creates, yet again, another fifteen person line.

In summary, if you do not have to purchase your books from the campus bookstore, don’t! You will probably be paying higher prices than you need to or you may find yourself waiting in lengthy lines. College students are far too busy for this inconvenience.

2. Rent from Amazon

When I asked some of my friends for their preferred method of obtaining textbooks, the majority responded, “rent from Amazon.” Amazon offers a student prime membership for only $6.49 per month. Through a prime membership, you can rent your books and have them waiting at your campus mailroom in two business days. Plus, there is no cost for shipping! To find your textbook on Amazon, simply copy and paste the ISBN number into the Amazon Rental search bar, and add your item to your cart.

Even more beneficial, when you return your books to Amazon, the company pays for your shipping yet again. All you have to do is package the book in a box, print the shipping label, tape it to the box, and drop off the package to the carrier listed on your return label. These are usually common carriers such as FedEx or USPS.

Amazon Prime is known for its deals, fast processing, and free shipping. These characteristics extend to textbooks as well. I have ordered numerous books through Amazon Prime and have never been disappointed. After checking the prices at the campus bookstore, I am always pleased to find that I have saved a few dollars per book, at least!

3. Buy Used From Amazon

Similarly to renting from Amazon Prime, many friends said that they purchase their textbooks used from Amazon. This saves a tremendous amount of money and the textbooks are usually in pristine condition. This is my preferred method of obtaining textbooks, and I have always received quality products, especially for the price that I paid.

Buying used from Amazon has a few benefits over renting. If you rent, you should keep your markings in the book to a minimum. Because someone else will likely be using your book next semester, the company strives to keep the products in the best condition possible. I have rented books from Amazon and marked slightly on a few pages with colored highlighters or pencil and never had a problem. However, the company does warn consumers that if the book has “excessive marking,” you may be charged a buyout fee. Buying used dodges this issue completely because the book is yours. You are free to mark all over the book if you choose to and if something happens to it (your backpack gets soaked on a rainy day, for instance), you are not responsible for returning the book. Buying used is a great option for those who enjoy writing notes in the margins of textbooks or highlighting important information.

4. Split it with a Friend

We all love having classes with a friend. It makes long, boring lectures bearable, you know you have a partner for group work, and you have a study buddy who you know you enjoy spending time with. Have you ever considered splitting the cost of the textbook with a friend?

Of course, this requires planning ahead and flexibility, so it may not be for everyone. However, if you have a friend who you spend a lot of time with anyways, it might be worth it to split the cost of a fifty dollar textbook, so you each only spend twenty five. Especially for a course that does not require the textbook for each class, this may be a big win for those looking to save a few bucks. If one page is needed for a homework assignment, one of you could even make a copy of the page so you both have what you need. You could also set aside time to do the reading or practice problems together. This promotes accountability and discipline, so you may even find that sharing a book makes you work harder!

5. Buy Used From a Student Who Has Taken the Class

Returning to the notion of “buying used,” upperclassmen can be very valuable assets. As previously mentioned, many students do not read their textbooks after the class ends. Therefore, most students would greatly appreciate an opportunity to clear them from their dorm rooms or apartments.

Most universities have “class Facebook pages” where members of a given class can post information, announcements, or textbooks they are trying to sell. By this method, you can dodge the two or three days it may take to receive your books in the mail. Even more beneficial, if you keep the markings in the book to a minimum, you can sell the same book to another student when the semester ends. Everyone wins!

Students understand the struggle of purchasing required textbooks, many of which can add up to hundreds of dollars. They are very likely to give you a good deal! Just make sure the ISBN numbers match before agreeing to purchase a book from a student. Sometimes, the professor may require a certain edition or annotated version of the text.  

6. Sell Your Books From Previous Semesters

If you buy used and especially if you buy new, there is a good chance you can sell your textbooks to other students on campus. Using social media, announcements within your department, or word of mouth, you can recover a percentage of the money you spent on your textbooks, especially if you can minimize markings.

Students are looking for a good deal. Even if you sell a twenty dollar textbook for ten dollars, you are only out ten dollars total for your purchase. You can then use the money you earn from selling your textbooks from previous classes to pay for your books required for your current classes. By this method, you are also helping students at your school acquire their textbooks at a cheaper price.

7. Use the Library

I was very surprised to learn how many textbooks the university library has available. If your required book is not available, however, many local libraries have a wider array of options. While the typical checkout period is two weeks, you can usually extend this a few times.

If you want to get really creative, have a few friends check the book out after you return it. This way, you all have access for the entire semester.

Some professors will also put required texts on reserve at the university library. Take advantage of this! Some libraries may require you to stay in the library while you use the book, but this could also be beneficial. I have found that finding a quiet place to study in the library leads to much more effective studying than if I were to study in my bed at home.


Hopefully, this list has provided a few ideas for obtaining required textbooks at a lower cost to you. Spending hundreds of dollars on textbooks is sometimes unfeasible for students, but this does not mean you cannot be successful. Get creative, be flexible, and make this your best semester yet. Investing in your education will be beneficial in the long run!