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Buying College Textbook - How to Save Money

Updated on August 13, 2012

College: A new era in a young person's life. A time to truly discover oneself. A chance to leave the nest and soar to new heights. A time of independence, education, socializing, and...crippling debt?

Yes, college can be quite pricey what with classes, cost of living, supplies, living on campus vs. commuting. Even with the help of scholarships, that rarely covers everything, especially essentials for your classes. Just when you think you've gotten everything, you get slapped with the dreaded book list.

My freshman year of college, I spent several hundred dollars on textbooks, and that was still less than what most other students spent! What's worse, some of my more expensive textbooks were seldom used, if at all, and then I couldn't sell them back at the end of the year. How did I go from spending Over $200 on textbooks and only getting $20 back? And why was I considered lucky for getting even that much back from the campus bookstore?

Fortunately, new college students can avoid this campus hustle with tips and tricks from a four year graduate.

Avoid the bookstore whenever possible

College is a business too. Especially at a private university where their primary sources of income are donors and students, schools will squeeze as much money out of you as they can and do whatever they can to hold onto it. That $80 textbook you bought is now only worth $5, but you better believe they'll sell it next year for $60. Whether you're buying textbooks or selling textbooks, avoid doing business with your bookstore.

Buy used

If you're looking online or if you're forced to buy from your campus bookstore, always buy used. Used textbooks will always save you money and as an added bonus, you can usually find notes and important facts highlighted by the previous owner of the book. You shouldn't rely on the notes, but rather use them as a springboard instead.

Like New
No detectable flaws/unread
Very Good
Lightly read with shipping wear
Your average read book with normal wear
More worn than your average book with noted faults
Excessive wear and tear. Avoid if you want your money back

When buying used textbooks, always look for the listed condition of the book. Books will usually be listed from 'Like New' to 'Acceptable' or 'Fair'. Some sites will even list 'Poor' books, but you should probably avoid these unless you really don't care about the condition of your textbook and you're not planning on selling it back. Always read the description of the book for a list of damages. Avoid textbooks with:

  • Water damage
  • Cover damage
  • Broken spines
  • Excessive highlighting and notes
  • Torn and missing pages

These books will be virtually impossible to sell back.

Renting and downloading

Another way to save money is to rent or download your textbooks. Both methods allow you to be in possession of a textbook (tangible or virtual) for a set amount of time, usually a semester's worth. When that time is up, you ship the textbook back/no longer have access to your online textbook. You can save a good chunk of money, but at the same time, you don't get any money from selling at the end of the semester. For some people, this might be easier and preferable, but I rather dislike both methods.


When I rented a textbook for the first time, I saved probably $30-$40, but the textbook I happened to rent was more delicate than your average textbook. The pages were tissue paper thin. I had to be extra careful not to stain, wrinkle, or otherwise damage the pages. Any sort of damage to the textbook could result in additional fees. I also didn't feel comfortable sharing my textbook with any of my classmates, which normally I wouldn't hesitate to do. All in all, it was way more stress than it was worth.

As for downloading a textbook, I personally prefer having an actual book in my hands. Reading on a screen for so long can be so tedious, not to mention a stress on the eyes.

All in all, you just have to do your homework. See if renting/downloading will actually save you money. In some cases, you'll save more money buying a used book and selling it back at the end of the year.

Check the edition of the textbook

Checking the edition of the textbook can save you both money and a headache. Older edition textbooks will usually be drastically cheaper than their newer edition counterparts. You'll fine that companies come out with new editions to their textbooks practically every other year with little changes actually being made. A few extra words may be sprinkled here and there or some chapters may be swapped, but all in all, it's the same book.

Now, I'm not saying go out and buy the older edition textbook right away. Some professors are very set in their ways. If they say 12th edition, they mean 12th edition. Always talk with your professor first. I've had professors insist on the newest edition to keep us up to date and I've had professors insist on the older edition to save us money. Don't assume anything or else you may end up buying multiples of the same textbook.


Does your textbook have all the bells and whistles?

You'll find that nowadays textbooks are no longer just books. They come with workbooks and CDs and other accessories. If you find the textbook you're looking for online at a price too good to be true, it probably is. 8-14 days later, your textbook will arrive as just that. A book. Missing all of the extra hardware needed for your class. Trust me, I've been there before and it set me behind in both the class and money.

Is your textbook required or just 'recommended'?

Did you know that some of the textbooks you're buying may not even be required for your class? Your professor will send you this daunting list of books, but if you take a closer look, some of the textbooks are simply recommendations to help you study. In no way do the textbooks actually affect your grade in the class. Not paying attention to this set me back $60 after we didn't use a certain textbook once in my class and then the book store wouldn't buy it back because a new edition was coming out (again). This is another case were you should talk to your professor. Ask which books will actually be used and when you will need them. You obviously can't be reading all six books at once in the class. Buying the textbooks over time rather than all at once fits better into most budgets.

Where to sell your textbooks

There are plenty of websites available that will buy back your textbooks. The better condition your textbook is in, the more money you will get for it. Now, you could go to each individual site to find the best deal, or you can let another website do all the work for you! Just plug in the title or ISBN of your textbook and a whole list of sites will pop up that want your textbook and how much they're are willing to pay. Pay attention to the condition they want it in and what exactly they are offering you. Some places pay with store credit rather than money. Some of my favorite sites to visit are:

If your books have seen better days, you'll probably have better luck just selling them on eBay. Remember to be honest in your description and not to hide any of the damages. I was very unhappy when I ended up with a water-damaged book I couldn't sell.

Trading and Sharing

Towards the end of the semester, my school always held a little party for students to gather and trade textbooks for the following semester. It was a great way to meet new people, find out about your future class and professor, and save some money! If your school doesn't hold one of these nifty events, talk with people you know who have had similar classes. I had a theatre textbook I no longer needed and was struggling to sell (because a new edition came out), so I ended up giving it to a friend after we cleared it with the professor.

If a friend is more reluctant to give up their textbook, simply ask to borrow it. Sometimes, you only need the textbook for a few weeks. Take extra good care of the textbook and return it to them on the date agreed upon.

I do not recommend sharing the same book at the same time. I knew many pairs of friends that would split the cost of a textbook and agree to share it, but someone always held onto the textbook too long or didn't take proper care of it.

College can be quite pricey. There's not much way around that. But you can still cut down on the cost by making a little extra effort and doing some research before you start buying textbooks. Those hundreds of dollars you save are going to come in handy when you have to start paying back those student loans! When I figure out how to save money there, I'll let you know.


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    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 

      7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Good tips, especially right now with students getting ready to head back to the books.

    • MissyGear profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks for the comment, Josh. It's pretty funny how the book buying process changes from freshmen to senior. I went from buying every book on the list as soon as possible all the way to waiting a month into classes to see if I'd really need any of the books. Your attitude can change a lot over such a short period of time!

    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania


      This is a very informative hub on saving money when shopping for textbooks. College students pay way too much money on books these days, especially freshmen since they are new and not experienced. This is a great tutorial for these students. I personally always borrowed books, but that is just personal preference. It is difficult borrowing because you may want to use the same book at the same time. But, it does save money.

      Great job here Missy! You are doing awesome here on HubPages!


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