How to Save Money on Textbooks

When you’re planning for college expenses, you probably consider tuition, housing and food, but there’s another cost that will take a serious bite out of your budget—textbooks.

Consumer advocate group U.S. PIRG found that the average college student spends $1,200 per year on textbooks, and that number is on the rise. According to a 2013 report by the Government Accountability Office, the price of college textbooks rose 82 percent over the previous decade, compared to a 28 percent increase in overall consumer prices.

For a student with limited funds, that’s a pretty serious expense, and it’s hurting the educational process. In a survey of more than 2,000 college students on over 150 campuses, U.S. PIRG found that 65 percent of students had decided against buying a textbook because it was too expensive and 48 percent said the cost of books had an impact on how many or which classes they took.

Wait Before You Buy:

You may think you need to have all the textbooks required for a course before you walk in the door, but you probably don’t. Go bookless to your first class and get a feel for what the professor expects textbook-wise, including which books you’ll be using heavily, when in the semester you’ll need them and whether there are any you’ll be using minimally or maybe not at all. Once you have this information, you’ll know which books to buy, which to borrow, and which you might be able to do without.


If you know someone in your class, see if your friend would be willing to split the cost of the required books. You’ll need to have good time management skills so you aren’t fighting over who gets to use the book at midnight the night before a big test, but you’ll have the textbooks you need for half the cost of buying your own.


Chances are, the courses you’re taking have been using the same textbooks for awhile, which means there are a lot of them on campus already. Ask around to see if you know anyone who took the class, bought the textbook and wouldn’t mind loaning it to you for a semester.


Several websites (see list below) let you rent books for the semester for a fraction of the price of buying. Some even give you free shipping.

Visit the Library:

If your school library has the textbook you need, you probably won’t be the only one trying to get a hold of it, but remember that you can also request books through interlibrary loan, both on campus and at your local public library.

Buy an Older, Alternate or International Edition:

Textbook publishers release new versions every few years, and your professor will likely have the most recent edition on your list of required books. But often the new edition has very minimal changes from the old, and once the new version is out, you can get the older edition much cheaper. Ask your professor if there is new material in the latest version to be sure you won’t be missing anything. Many textbooks also have cheaper international editions, which have the same content but a different ISBN, a different cover image and maybe an alternate arrangement of content or chapters.

Check Online:

If you prefer to buy new textbooks, do a Web search for the titles you need before you head to the campus bookstore—you can probably save a few bucks buying online. (Be sure to factor in shipping costs, if any.)

Opt for Electronic Versions:

Some textbook publishers offer ebook versions, which can be cheaper to purchase and are accessible (and searchable) via computer or mobile device.

Sell Your Old Textbooks:

Offset some of the cost of buying or renting textbooks for new classes by selling your textbooks from past classes. Shop around to make sure you’re getting the best price.

Consider Open-Course:

An increasing number of colleges let students use open-course or open-access textbooks—online versions that can be viewed and downloaded for free or printed for a fraction of the cost of a print textbook. Three are more than 160 open textbooks available, mostly for common entry-level classes rather than more advanced or specialized courses. If you’re not sure whether you can use an open-course textbook for your class, ask your professor.

Online Textbook Resources


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Showing 2 comments
  • meghan schlemmer

    I was surprised by that information and glad that i read it before going to get my textbooks for classes/

  • B Handsborough Jr

    Thanks for the information. I will definitely utilize the information provided.