5 Ways to Save on College Textbook Shopping

5 Ways to Save on College Textbook Shopping

Buying textbooks is a significant educational expense for college students that might sneak up on you. These required materials can be hundreds of dollars each, so it’s important to be educated on your options before jumping into purchasing your textbooks for the semester. Student loans can help cover these costs if you don’t have the money up front, but it’s important to minimize the amount of student loans you take on. So, whether you’re paying now or borrowing to cover the cost, here are some tips and tricks to keep your textbook purchases within your budget.

save on textbook shopping

1. Know what type of textbooks are available or needed

There are different types of textbooks that may require different approaches to buying them. It’s important to know what type of textbook you need for each of your courses so you don’t buy the wrong one.

Traditional textbooks

Traditional textbooks can sometimes be found on the Internet for less than what the bookstore is selling them for, though some school bookstores have rolled out price match programs. Some textbooks, however, may actually be written by the professor instructing the course. If so, it’s often difficult to get the book anywhere other than your school’s bookstore based on how widely used the textbook is.

Access codes

Some textbooks may include an access code. These are codes that grant membership to a specific online instructing website with assignments. A professor may require you to have this access code to complete course assignments. A brand new textbook will contain this code. However, if you purchase a used book, make sure it includes the access code and that the code is still valid.


If it’s acceptable for the class, there are multiple sites that may have an eTextbook, the electronic version of a textbook, for you to use on your laptop. These eTextbooks can sometimes be downloaded at a fraction of the cost of the hardcopy textbook, so it makes for a great money-saving alternative.

2. Decide when to buy

Depending on what school you attend, your first week of classes may be more of an introductory week or a week of full formal instruction. Knowing how your school operates is an important factor in deciding when you purchase your textbooks. If you have a schedule that’s been finalized or classes you’re required to take, purchasing your textbooks in advance may be the best option for you. If your schedule is uncertain, waiting until you attend your first classes may work best.

Waiting to buy your books has pros and cons. Waiting until the first day of class allows you to get the most up-to-date syllabus and have the instructor confirm the required textbook. But waiting also means you may miss out on the supply of used textbooks. If you buy your textbooks in advance, check the return policy so you’re aware of your options if you drop or change a class. If you wait to buy the book, make sure you can still be prepared for class and you’re not setting yourself up to fall behind.

3. Consider renting or buying used textbooks

There may be an option to rent a textbook as opposed to buying it. College bookstores and online sellers will often give you the option to rent the textbook, which could ultimately lower the cost of the book. However, there may be restrictions related to highlighting and writing notes throughout the pages. The book will also need to be returned by the end of the semester in the same condition it was purchased – make sure you have all necessary materials originally included in the rental so you don’t get charged a fee.

Before deciding to rent, consider your classes. Buying a textbook for one of your key classes may be the right choice because you are able to look back at it later on in your school career. For a one-time general education class, you might want to rent since you won’t need to reference the material in the future.

If renting isn’t the right option for you, buying used books is a good way to save money on textbooks. You’re able to mark them up with notes and use the books how you’d like because you own them. The ability to make changes can also be a downfall to buying used textbooks – the used book’s previous owner’s notes and highlighted materials will still be present. These markings may be distracting to you while trying to read from the book, so it’s important to check the condition before you make the purchase. One advantage of buying a used book in person is being able to look at its condition before purchase.

4. Shop around

There are a lot of options to consider when shopping around for the best priced textbook. Some sites allow you to enter the ISBN number of the textbook and compare costs across a few reputable online sellers, making it easy for you to find the best deal. Some college bookstores have also developed portals that allow students to compare prices across different retailers.

Another destination to check for deals on textbooks includes your college’s social media pages. The graduating classes of colleges usually have Facebook groups where students can post a message to the entire class. These groups are a good place to look before buying brand new textbooks. Students who took a specific course a semester prior oftentimes try to sell their textbook to students who need them at a reduced price.

5. Sell your textbooks back

If you purchased the textbook, you can sell it to your campus bookstore or another textbook retailer. Always explore options to make sure you’re getting the most value. Businesses interested in buying back textbooks often set up tents around campus – be sure to check with each one.

You can also post your textbooks on a college’s social media page. You may even want to sell a textbook back online, depending on how much you are able to get for it – just don’t forget to consider any shipping fees.

Armed with these tips, you can make smart choices when it comes to affordably getting the textbooks you need.

For more ways to save, visit our WalletWorks page.

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