Cheap Textbooks 101: Exactly How I Save Money on Textbooks

Become a slightly less broke college student with our guide to scoring cheap textbooks.

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Cheap textbooks guide - the best places to buy textbooks on a budget and how to save money on textbooks in college

I don’t know about you, but I have spent my fair share of paychecks on textbooks over the last few years. Now that classes are starting up again, I wanted to provide some tips on how to save money on textbooks, and the exact places I shop to find cheap textbooks.

As an English major, I don’t use as many actual textbooks as other majors, but I do go through literature books and anthologies like they’re going out of style. Most of my professors aim to help us find the cheapest editions or books that have PDFs online, and for that I am immensely grateful, although the books can still cost a pretty penny if you’re not sure how to get them cheaper.

Here’s my ultimate list of tips and tricks for saving money on textbooks. Learn from my experience and read this before you go to the bookstore!

Tips for Saving Money on Textbooks:

Below are a number of tips that should help you save some dough on textbooks over the upcoming school year.

1. Rent

I’ve only done this a few times, though I know many people who do this frequently. It depends on the book whether or not it will be available to rent.

I’ve had the most luck renting books for general education courses. Most people need to take these classes, though they’re not likely to need the book after the class, so renting in these situations is incredibly useful.

For instance, I rented an Introduction to Speech book that was used only for quizzes. It was around $90 to rent, with a retail price of maybe twice that, and I returned it to my bookstore at the end of the term. This saved me a lot of money and hassle.

You can rent books from your campus bookstore, Amazon, Chegg, and a number of other locations. I highly recommend this if you can find the book to rent and you know you won’t need it again.

2. Buy Used Books

Cheap textbooks guide - pencil next to open book with writing inside
Via Unsplash

I cannot stress this enough. This should be obvious to everyone but it bears repeating: Used books are one of the easiest ways to save money on textbooks. (Though if you need a book with an access code, don’t buy it used, unless you can buy the two separately — I’ve heard of this being an option.)

The biggest issue I’ve run into when it comes to used books is them getting sold out and me having to buy the new ones instead.

There are so many places to get used books. My bookstore on campus carries them, as do Amazon and Thriftbooks (both of which I’ll talk more about below). These used books can be bought at half the price, if not more, of that for a new book.

3. Share with a Friend

I’ve never done this, but I know others who have, and I wish I’d done it. If you’re both in a class that doesn’t use the book super frequently, and you can share it and split the costs, do it!

This doesn’t work super well for literature courses but let’s say you’re taking a general course, or one online, and you’re planning on working on stuff together. Sharing a book saves you both money and space.

4. Ask Other Classmates

How to save money on textbooks - woman writing in open book with laptop open
Via Unsplash

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had a classmate of mine take a class that I did in the past, and need the book, or vice versa. This is when it helps to know some of the people in your major. If you’re friends with them, they can help you with assignments, and maybe even sell you their used book at a steep discount.

It’d be an added bonus if they’re one of the students that takes notes in the margins and can help you understand the material a little better.

5. Try and Buy Your Books Ahead of Time

I don’t do this enough, even though I know I should. This can work really well, but it depends on the professor.

There are times where a professor will have a book that’s optional, and they won’t mention that fact until the first class. (Ugh.) On the other hand, I’ve had professors assign readings the first day, and my book is still being shipped to me. Usually, I ask a friend for help in those cases.

There are many benefits to buying a book ahead of time, if you can swing it.

If you do buy your books well ahead of time, there’s a higher chance you’ll be able to get a used one, for a discount. As the semester nears, used copies go fast. Also, you won’t have to pay any extra for shipping. You can also get ahold of your book before they sell out at your bookstore, if you shop there. (It’s happened to me before!)

Where to Find Cheap Textbooks:

There are so many places to buy textbooks for cheap. I’m going to mainly focus on the most popular choices today.

1. Amazon

I have bought so many books from Amazon. I obviously love the free two-day shipping, thank goodness for Amazon Prime Student. I’m also a big fan of their used book options. (You can even get a great textbook stand to go with your order.)

There have been very few occasions where Amazon doesn’t have the book I’m looking for, though it’s important to cross check prices before clicking “add to cart.” Sometimes you pay extra for convenience with Amazon.

2. Chegg

I haven’t used Chegg yet myself, but it’s an extremely popular site and I have heard good things about it from others. Chegg is primarily a rental site, with prices up to 90% off (talk about cheap textbooks!), but you can also buy books from them if you prefer to purchase rather than rent.

One thing to know about Chegg is that they have a 21-day return policy, which comes in extremely handy if you’re not sure about a class. I could have definitely used this when I bought books for a class I ended up dropping the next week.

3. Thriftbooks

This is one of my personal favorite sites ever, mainly because they carry a number of books under five dollars. They also offer book options aside from textbooks. It’s essentially an online sale site for used books. I have gotten so many books from this site, frankly it’s a problem.

The one thing I should mention though is that the shipping does take a little longer than some sites. Two-day shipping is possible with a fee. So if you are planning on using this site, I recommend using it with a book you don’t need right away or ordering ahead of time.

4. Your School Bookstore

labeled bookshelf
Via Pexels

This is actually the last place I recommend you look, as the prices are almost always going to be better at the sites I listed above.

That being said, this is the best place to find books that may be hard to find other places; maybe your professor picked a unique textbook for your course. The staff there can also be really helpful if you have any questions regarding textbooks.

I want to hear from you!

What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming school year? What’s the most expensive textbook you’ve purchased? I think I’ve spent around four-hundred dollars on literature anthologies over the years.

Where do you find cheap textbooks? Tell me your shopping secrets in the comments.

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