How I Saved Thousands of Dollars on College Textbooks

I was in college for five and a half years for a four year program prior to graduating, and I paid my way through the whole thing. I learned quickly that the costs add up and that budgeting is of utmost importance if you want to graduate without thousands of dollars worth of debt. Which I did want to do.

Other than applying for scholarships and bursaries, you can’t really do much about the cost of tuition, but you can impact your spending on things like school supplies and textbooks. These books can run anywhere from $100-$300 and you use them for one semester. There are some books that you might want keep afterward for reference, but in all honesty it’s unlikely that you will use them once you’ve graduated from college. Cutting costs on this expense can be very valuable.

Here’s how I saved a lot on the cost of textbooks when in college, and you can too:

Find Out Whether You Need The Book

It’s alarming how many classes that I had that required a textbook, which after buying, I only opened once or twice (for things that I could have searched on the internet).

Most teachers will say that the textbook is necessary, but frequently, they aren’t. I caught wind of this in my third year and didn’t buy the book for 4-5 of my classes. It saved me probably just under $800, and I did just as well in the class as I would have without the book.

Ask your peers who have already taken the class what the class is like. Do the lecture notes get posted on the course website? Then you probably don’t need the book.

Do you use the book other than to read passages out of it in class? Does the teacher make exams or assign questions out of the book? If the answer to these things are no, then look at whether or not you need the book. I usually started the class and then decided after the first or second session whether it was necessary.

Share A Book

There is a couple of ways that you can do this that I’ve had success with if you really do need the textbook. The first is to share the book with somebody who is taking the same class as you at the same time. If you are studying separately, photocopy the chapters you will need. You can share the book in class, and this halves the cost of the book.

This works for ebooks too, and I actually find it pointless for each person in the class to purchase an ebook. Make a generic email address with a generic password when you buy the book and share it with the people you trust; that way, you can split the cost.

Another way to do this, is to share textbooks in general with people that have different schedules than you but are in the same program. I did this with a friend one year who was taking two classes that I was taking in a different semester. She bought one textbook, I bought the other, and we swapped when we were done with the class.

Buy Used

Usually a campus bookstore will sell some used books, but they are much more expensive than if you buy used directly from a peer. You can usually find them on Craigslist or even college classifieds, and it can save up to 60% of the original selling price.

The best part about this is that, if you are not too hard on your books, you can usually sell them for the same price as long as no new editions have been released in the interim period.

You should buy a couple weeks before your class starts so that the used ones aren’t all taken and you have to end up buying a new one.

Electronic Books

I’ve already touched on this, but electronic books are great. They are not only green, but they are usually discounted heavily from the paper books. I bought an ebook in my last class for $70, when the paper version was over $150.

I then split the cost with a peer who I trusted, and since it’s an ebook we both always had access to the book. It was $35 each that way, which is less than 23% of what the paper book cost would have been if we had both purchased it.

It’s also nice because you can sell the access to the ebook after you are done with it, and you don’t have to drag around big, heavy textbooks to each class.

Not all companies have ebooks, but it’s beneficial to your budget to buy the ones that do.


There are websites out there that will let you rent the book for a discounted price. I don’t love this option because there are other great options where you can sell them after, but it’s a good option if you don’t want the hassle of selling the book after the class is over.

Sometimes, public libraries even have the textbook, although you can’t usually take them out for a full semester.

Renting textbooks is just another way you can save money on textbooks.

These are all good options for saving money on textbooks and they can save you thousands of dollars over your academic career if you follow them for all of your classes.

So, how much have you had to spend on textbooks? What kinds of ways have you found to save money?


How I Saved Thousands of Dollars on College Textbooks — 13 Comments

  1. I always tried to buy used… often the version would change and people would think that the old one was no good, hence would almost give it away! In reality a new edition means very little in terms of content!!

  2. I think I bought 2 or 3 books during my entire five years of college. Most books were at the library and while you can’t check them out you can photocopy should the need arise. But I studied business and you certainly need more books for a literature degree.

  3. Some great tips. Though I would have to say some of these options weren’t available when I was in school especially the renting and online copies. I agree completely that a lot of the books ended up being a waste of money.

    In most cases teachers provided ample notes and you could possibly share one. The thing I hated most was the school buying the books back at less then 1/4 the cost you paid. Then saying we are sure it this will be used next semester.

    I remember paying 150-300 per book and some required a workbook which would put me at about 450$ per class.

  4. I never took a class where I didn’t need the book, but I was an engineering major. There were copies available at the library or I could have shared but I liked studying on my own and not relying on anyone else’s schedule.

    I bought all my books as international editions from China, India, etc. I used sites like ebay, abe books and even amazon to find them for literally 5-10% of the cost. Not 5-10% off! haha I think this strategy works best for math and science books though, not sure about other types.

  5. I bought my textbooks overseas via eBay, usually from sellers in India. The international version of textbooks, particularly in Math and Computer Sciences, are exactly the same as the North American ones, just cheaper construction and softcover instead of hardcover. Usually a book that costs ~$150 here would be less than $40, including shipping, from India.

  6. I’ve used so many of these! At least with the books my professors prescribe, the ebooks have been not that great of a discount. Maybe a tiny bit cheaper, but I’d rather go used. You obviously found great deals, though. I always try to resell them at the end of the semester, too, so I can try to make my money back or gain a profit.

  7. College textbooks are a huge criminal racket! Fortunately, there are some pretty good alternatives to lower the cost, like the article mentions. When I was in college, we didn’t have most of these options that are available now. The article brings up a great point. You might even able to get by without a textbook for certain courses. I like the rental option as well. They should never be bought new except for as a last resort. Craigslist is a good source to find cheap college textbooks as well.

  8. I’m pretty sure I only bought about 3 books in my entire university tenure! Some had reference copies in the library, luckily. Often the required readings would be put online in PDF form. Also, my degree was reasonably practical, so there weren’t tons of theory books in the curriculum.

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