The Frugal Student’s Guide to Saving on Textbook Costs

piggy bank moneyStudents who are enrolled in a university, either online or in person, are all too familiar with living on a budget. It is no wonder that “ramen noodles” are practically synonymous with “student,” as both tuition and textbook costs continue to rise. Fortunately there are several tips for getting your textbooks on the cheap that we are sharing with you today, and they fall under one of two categories – saving money and spending nothing.

Saving Money On Textbooks

The tips here specifically refer to saving money when you acquire a textbook from a retailer.

  1. Look at the list of textbooks required for that class. If there are more than three, chances are that you will not need all of them right away. Email your professor or look at the syllabus to see which books you will need first. This way you do not spend a large chunk all at once, and can easily stick to your budget.
  2. Do not rely on your school’s bookstore. Purchasing textbooks directly from the school’s bookstore or website is always a recipe for spending far more than needed. Occasionally bookstores associated with community or city colleges will have textbooks at a reduced price, but don’t hold your breath.
  3. Shop around. Websites like Amazon, Chegg, AbeBooks, Textbookrush, and more, all offer a wide variety of textbooks at a consistently cheaper price than the bookstore. To save some time with this process, find a website that allows you to compare textbook prices from multiple websites. People compare prices with flights and hotels, so why not textbooks too?
  4. Rent, or buy a used copy. Unless you are really passionate about the subject, it is always best to rent your textbooks. This way you’re not stuck with a book that you will never use after the class is over. Some books are not available to rent, and in that case, going with a used copy is your next best bet. If you can rent a used copy, then you have just struck gold and should absolutely take advantage of that discount. Remember to return the book before it is due, this way you are not charged the full price of the book or any other late fees. Some websites even allow you to extend the due date, if necessary, by about a week for a small charge.
  5. Ebooks are the way to go. They are cheaper, and Etextbooks are especially convenient if you are taking online courses. This way you can access the book, and any supplemental materials that may come with it, straight from your laptop or tablet without lugging a heavy textbook to your favorite study spot. Rented Ebooks are hassle-free too, since they are often automatically returned by the due date.
  6. Look for an older edition of the textbook. Usually only a couple of changes have been made to a newly published textbook. These changes are often minor, such as a few added pictures and paragraphs, and are not worth the price of the latest edition. However, use caution and email your professor before you purchase an older version because they will know if the information in the newest edition is vital to the coursework for the class.

Spending Nothing On Textbooks

These tips can help you save even more by not spending a dime!

  1. Borrow from a friend. If you know someone who has taken the class before you, ask if you can use their book for the semester. Free books are the best books.
  2. Check the library. Admittedly, finding the textbook you need from the library can be rare, but it does happen. Check the library as soon as the list of required texts becomes available. If the library does have it, there are usually a couple of copies available. Finding your book at the library makes you the master of getting books for free.
  3. Wait to buy the book. Unless you are 100% sure that you will actually need and use the book (ex: for advanced, specialized subjects), hold off on spending your money until after the first week of class (1-2 class periods). This way you can get a feel for how the instructor runs the class, and assess if you will actually need the textbook at all. It is up to you if you feel more comfortable with the textbook because it can either help you pass the class or be a waste of money. Having to repeat a course is much more costly than the initial textbook, so use your best judgement.
  4. Sell your old textbooks. You can use the money from the old textbooks to buy the next set of textbooks that you will need, creating a (relatively) self-sustaining textbook fund! Do not just sell your book to anyone. Just like when you were purchasing textbooks, be sure to shop around and compare websites to see who will give you the most money back. Most companies will also give you a shipping label to print out, meaning you do not have to pay for standard shipping. It’s a win-win.

Paying for tuition hurts, but paying for textbooks doesn’t have to. Buying used, renting, borrowing, and selling your textbooks are all ways to put a little extra cash in your pocket that would not otherwise be there. Put down the ramen noodles, and treat yourself to a pizza, you’ve earned it.


About Janika Martens

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Janika is an intern for Best Online Universities, and she assists in creating content for the company's web sites. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Communications at Northeastern Illinois University. Whether she is writing, studying, or relaxing, as a caffeine enthusiast, it is rare to see her without a cup of coffee in hand. Janika also loves all animals and enjoys spending her free time as a dog sitter, and volunteering at a local cat shelter.