How To Save Money On College Textbooks

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Nothing will irritate you more in college than buying a required college textbook from your university’s bookstore just to sell it for a fraction of the original price at the end of the class.

Is as if, the cost of college textbooks means nothing to the ones requiring these expensive textbooks.

So How Much Are College Textbooks Really?

Overall, college textbooks cost too much.

However, if you are looking for specific data, according to an article published by the average student spends $410 on textbooks alone per year for public two-year and four-year institutions.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, $410 doesn’t seem like much, especially considering it represents the average cost of college textbooks per year.

However, from personal experience, my required textbook costs on average $75 back in my college days. Now, if you multiply $75 times 5 courses per semester, then the grand total is $375.

So, $410 per year seems rather low.

However, information from seems a little more realistic. In fact, according to the article, the average cost of a new hard copy book in 2020 was $84 while an e-textbook was $38.

So, there you have it! Overall, college textbooks are expensive.

Tips For Buying College Textbooks

Don’t buy them unless it’s compulsory.

Compulsory, meaning you are 100% sure you will fail this class without this textbook.

Or, the professor makes it compulsory to purchase the book …

… because perhaps that professor is getting a kickback or some other personal benefit by forcing students to purchase the book.

Yes, you were probably thinking it.

We all think about it, every time a college professor makes a new edition textbook that cost over $100 compulsory. Plus, include open-book exams as part of their assessment criteria.

Anyway, there isn’t much you can do if the book is compulsory.

Sadly, you just have to suck it up and hope the textbook purchase is worth it.

Thankfully, there are ways you can save money on your purchase.

How To Save Money On College Textbooks

  1. Use Open Educational Resources (OERs)
  2. Buy e-textbooks
  3. Buy used textbooks
  4. Rent textbooks
  5. Apply for scholarships
  6. Buy prior used editions
  7. Seek international editions
  8. Use student discounts and cashback programs
  9. Share textbooks
  10. Search for PDFs online
  11. Check the course reserves
  12. Wish upon a star then ask around

1. Use Open Educational Resources (OERs)

As much as possible, use Open Educational Resources like Project Gutenberg.

OERs are any type of educational materials published in a public domain that uses open copyright licenses such as Creative Commons.

These types of educational materials can include textbooks, lecture notes, lecture videos, class handouts, images, syllabi, assignments, and tests.

Thankfully, through open copyright licenses such as Creative Commons, OERs users are provided with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities including Retaining, Revising, Remixing, Reusing, and Redistributing educational content found on OERs domains.

When compared to the other savings methods college students can use to save money on textbooks, OERs provide a unique cost-savings opportunity since Open Educational Resources are either free or cost less than other savings methods.

2. Buy e-textbooks

Now, in some cases, if an e-textbook is available, you can save some money by purchasing the e-textbook instead.

However, the most responsible thing to do is to let you know using an e-textbook isn’t ideally suitable for every college student – some students retain information better when using a textbook.

In fact, according to, print readers retain more detailed information about what they read when compared to digital users.


  1. E-textbooks have physical Limitations. For instance, you need a device, and power to use them.
  2. You can’t really recuperate the cost of an e-textbook because in most situations copyright laws prohibit the resale of e-textbooks.
  3. It’s harder to avoid distractions when using e-textbooks unless you use a device that doesn’t have any games or any access to social media platforms or anything internet-related.
  4. Using devices required for e-textbook output in class may not be permitted, especially during a strict “open-book” exam.
  5. E-textbooks may be cheap at first but if you don’t have the required output devices like an iPad, tablet, or laptop you may need to spend more money to purchase a suitable device just to use the e-textbook.
  6. An e-textbook in some cases is better used as additional study material if one can afford it, rather than as the main reference. For example, it can be used to review concepts on a mobile device on the go.

However, if you can’t relate to any or 90% of these disadvantages, then consider purchasing an e-textbook, because in some cases an e-textbook is cheaper than a used textbook book or rental textbook.

3. Buy used textbooks

Option number three – buy used textbooks.

If anytime during your college journey, you have to decide between buying a used or buying a new textbook, always choose the former.


Simple, used college textbooks provide the same information, and they are always cheaper.

Now, while a new hardcover college textbook has that new book smell with clean unmarked pages, let’s be real, purchasing new college textbooks really isn’t an option if you’re on a tight budget in college.

In fact, it’s a luxury most college students can’t afford.

Now, in some cases, you might not have a choice.

For instance, let’s say the professor strictly requires the latest edition released within that academic year, and this textbook isn’t available for rent on online book retailers like Amazon.

If that’s ever your situation in college, then you’re most likely screwed and I can almost guarantee that class is not going to be one of your most enjoyable classes at college.

From experience, professors who can’t compromise on a textbook aren’t usually the best at their craft.

Plus, they are usually the most difficult individuals you will meet during your college journey, and that will show through, how they related to students, the type of assignments they give, and their personalized teaching and grading style.

All in all, if you have to choose between a used or new book – get the used one and sell it at the end of the semester to recuperate some costs. Unless this is a textbook you really want to keep for future reference.

4. Rent textbooks

Want to save money and space on your bookshelf?

Well, rent your textbooks!

Renting usually catches a bad rap in these streets especially when it relates to housing.

However in regards to college books, how bad or good is renting your college books?

Let’s take a look at this situation.  This is a screenshot from my undergrad alma mater’s online bookstore.

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How To Save Money On College Textbooks 1 of 4


As shown above, this is a required accounting textbook for ACCT 201 and ACCT 202 for the academic year 2021-2022. Therefore, the average cost of a new print and a used print costs $125 and $93.75 respectively.

Rental  Option From The University’s Bookstore

Firstly, rentals must be returned at the end of every semester, in an acceptable condition. If there are any damages deemed unacceptable the student is financially responsible.

Now for this situation, rental isn’t available for ACCT 201 (the first accounting course) but it’s available for ACCT 202 (the second accounting course).

Now perhaps they might have done so to prevent students from wasting money on renting the textbook for ACCT 201 considering this textbook must be returned at the end of the fall semester.

Furthermore, the student would be left without a textbook for ACCT 202, unless they repurchased, or rented the textbook for the spring semester.

So overall, in this situation renting from the bookstore makes no financial sense. In fact, purchasing anything textbook-related from university bookstores rarely makes financial sense as you realize later on in this post.

The Best Option Long Term From The University’s Bookstore

The best option long-term would be to purchase a used print textbook for $187.50 from the fall semester, past both courses within that academic year, and resell the used print textbook to recuperate some of the cost.

Now, if the student fails one or both courses unless the department changes the required textbook then they don’t have to worry about repurchasing the textbook.

However, there’s still a chance they might incur an additional cost if the department changes the required textbook before they pass both courses.

The Best Option Short Term From The University’s Bookstore

Now considering ACCT 201 and ACCT 202 must be done in order, then in this case optimal savings are realized by purchasing the digital copy for $86.99 in the fall since a digital copy of this accounting textbook can be accessed for 365 days.

However, if the student failed ACCT 201 in the fall and had to retake ACCT 201 in the spring then they would need to pay another $86.99 to access the digital copy for the following fall semester to take ACCT 202.

So, while purchasing the digital copy in the short run saves you the most it leaves little room for failure.

If the student fails to complete both courses within 365 days the cost increases from $86.99 unless they were somehow able to save a copy and the department required the same textbook.

Amazon To The Resue?

So, let’s add Amazon into the mix.

How To Save Money On College Textbooks 3 of 4

Based on these prices above renting this textbook would cost you $22.92 for the current term. Now assuming the price doesn’t significantly increase you looking at less than $50.00 for both semesters.

So while you can’t recuperate costs by renting in some situations it can make a big difference especially if you’re on a tight budget.

Therefore, do your research and rent your college textbooks when it makes financial sense for your situation.

5. Apply for scholarships

Applying for scholarships should always be part of every college student’s college payment plan.

College is just too expensive to not have a plan that includes receiving free money to help subsidize the cost.

So, do your research and apply for the scholarships you are most qualified for.

Scholarships funds can help you pay for tuition, room, and board, and college supplies including college textbooks.

Imagine being in debt for a college degree when you probably could have been living your best college life debt-free!

Once again scholarships can help pay for college or career school, and don’t have to be repaid – aka free money.

Imagine free money falling from the sky! Well, not really, but that is one of the simplest ways to describe scholarship money.

Now there are different types of scholarships you can apply for.

However, the most common scholarships are merit-based scholarships and financial need scholarships.

Merit-based scholarships are usually awarded based on academic achievement or on a combination of academics and a special talent.

While, financial need scholarships are usually awarded based on interest, and traits.

In fact, these types of scholarships aim at a particular group of college students.

Now, when it comes to finding scholarships your qualify for and applying for these scholarships you must be proactive and disciplined – no messing around.

That means:

  • Researching about the scholarships your qualify for by using the internet, and/or asking your college advisors, college professors, club leaders, and volunteer leaders about scholarships.
  • Requesting recommendation letters from your professors, club, and volunteer leaders.
  • Preparing your scholarship application package.
  • Submitting your complete application package on time.

Another thing to consider applying for is book scholarships! Yes, they exist! Here are a few:

  • Casimiro Foundation Book Scholarships
  • Barnes And Noble Book Scholarships
  • WIHE Book Scholarship
  • Helping Hands Book Scholarship Program
  • The Passageway Scholarship Program

So leave no stone unturned! Apply!

6. Buy prior used editions

You know a textbook is expensive when you are considering buying prior used editions.

I have purchased a few previous editions and while they are cheaper than the latest used editions, there are some disadvantages that can easily render them useless.

Firstly, the names of the chapters are sometimes different or placed in different orders.

Plus, assignments at the end of the chapters are usually refreshed and the author usually adds additional chapters.

Therefore, even if most of the content is similar to the latest edition, these disadvantages can be problematic especially if the professor assigns assignments from the book or covers the book from top to bottom.

Therefore, it’s always advisable to talk with the professor first before purchasing prior used editions.

7. Seek international editions

Now international editions of college textbooks are like unicorns – they are so rare.

However, when you do find one they usually contain the exact same content – no major difference other than its ISBN and it’s usually way more affordable.

Thus, before you give up on owning your own copy check it the international version of that university textbook can be found online.

8. Use student discounts and cashback programs

Use student discounts and cashback programs as much as possible to help you decrease the cost of your college textbooks and other college supplies.

If you don’t have a Rakuten and/or TopCashBack signup.

9. Share textbooks

While sharing textbooks is not the best strategy sometimes it’s the only way to get through the course.

If you and your room pursue the same major and take the same classes every semester then this can work out well.

However, realize that sharing comes with certain inconveniences for example the book might not always be available when you want to use it.

Plus, if you and whoever you’re sharing the book with are taking the same class at the same time and the professor has an open book exam then one of you will have to make copies of the chapters being covered in the exam or find another book.

However, this isn’t the situation meaning each student has the class scheduled at a different time then creating a schedule can help ensure each person gets fair use of the book.

Plus, this schedule makes it easier to locate the book if it’s missing. So this can work well.

However, understand, that while using this method can cut the cost of having access to a book by half it isn’t a foolproof strategy for saving money on textbooks.

In general for this to really work, especially in an “open book exam class” students must have different class schedules.

10. Search for PDFs online

Now this really should be at the top of the list but let’s be real, your chances of getting a free pdf of the latest edition are slim to none and there’s a reason for that and it’s called “copyright infringement”.

So should you still search the internet for a free pdf copy? That’s your decision to make.

However, in the past, I have been lucky to find full pdf textbooks or chapters of previous editions by just typing the name of the textbook or the name of the chapter in the search.

These have saved me a few dollars throughout my college years. One thing, I need to mention I always only used these for personal use and never redistributed them.

11. Check the course reserves

Course reserves usually include textbooks, other books, articles, sample tests, videos, CDs, and DVDs, for students as requested by instructors.

So, before you buy a book, check the university course reserves at the library.

However, depending on your university this service might not be available. For example, my undergrad university didn’t have course reserves for my department. However, my grad university had course reserves for my departments.

Unfair? Yes.

But it really comes down to how much money the university has to allocate to services like that.

Some universities have the money but don’t allocate it properly, some have the money and prioritize students learning and the rest just don’t have the money, to begin with.

So hopefully your university has money and prioritizes students learning. Good luck!

12. Wish upon a star then ask around

Silly right? But you will never know unless you try.

Unless you let others around you know what you’re looking for how can they help?

You will be surprised what you can accumulate for free in college by just asking.

One of the main reasons is college dorm rooms are notoriously small. So there really isn’t any room for extra stuff not in use.

Now you may be wondering who would have a used textbook laying around when they could just sell it to the bookstore for some bucks?

Well, I can tell you from personal experience the bookstore offer peanuts for books they repurchase from students.

Personally, I kept books instead of selling them to the bookstore because the compensation was extremely low.

So before you buy anything ask around chances are someone might have what you’re looking for or know someone who has it.

Thus, don’t be shy, instead ask around – start networking and be resourceful.

Plus, don’t forget to negotiate or perhaps batter. You may have something they want or you might be able to help them get a project or something else done.

Cheapest Way To Get College Textbooks

From experience, the cheapest way to get college textbooks is through free PDFs online.

Unfortunately, it’s not the norm. However, it is a relief when you find a PDF link on the first page of the search engine.

If you’re not so lucky, the next option is to ask the professor if a reference copy is available at the library.

Generally, there is usually one or a handful available for students to use.

If that isn’t an option, consider purchasing previous editions or international editions after seeking buying guidance from the professor.

Now, if the professor says previous editions or international editions are not allowed for the class, consider getting a used book.

Should You Purchase College Textbooks At The University’s Bookstore?

Probably not.

The books at the university bookstore are usually more expensive.

In general, you are better off purchasing your textbooks in advance from online retailers.

Therefore, unless it’s a book specifically created for that college, avoid the university bookstore.

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