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How to Find Cheap Textbooks

Updated on May 20, 2015

Finding Cheap Textbooks

Finding textbooks that are affordable is the dream of many students. Indeed, it can be so important that it may be the issue that determines if a student can attend college in a given semester. There are ways to keep the textbook costs down, but expect to do a little work.

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Know What You Need

First thing that is real important is to know what book you need. Textbooks change editions, and it is sometimes very important that you have the right edition. Suppose the author adds three questions at the beginning of a set. If you answer questions as numbered in your book you would answer the wrong ones.

ISBN numbers change with editions, so if possible find out what the ISBN number is. And, it you use the money from selling one textbook to reduce the cost of another, sell as soon as the semester ends, before the edition changes are your book drops in value,if possible. In some cases you have a book in its last semester, and there is nothing that can be done about it, but sell fast if you can.

Make Certain You Get Everything

Buying a used book saves money, but if the book had an access code to a website it probably has expired. Know how much it will cost you to buy the code. Buying part of what you need cannot be compared to the price for the entire package. Do not just look at that low price on eBay. Make certain you are comparing like packages.

When to Buy a Used Book Vs a New Book

You would buy a used book for general courses. You would prefer a new book for subjects in your major. That used book will have some wear, and books in your major may be a good reference for your entire career. After all, you will have familiarity with its contents.

Another thing to consider is how many courses in a sequence will that book need to last. Examples are algebra and trigonometry, which may come from a single book, and calculus which may cover several semesters. Foreign language books, science books, and even others may be multiple semester books.

Where Would You Find Used Books?

The easiest place to find them is a used book store. The advantage is you can look through the book and see its condition. The disadvantage is it probably is not the best price.

College bookstores sometimes offer used books, and may to the only source for some hard to find books.

Books can be bought online through used book sites. They are usually given with prices for comparison on such sites as

If you look at just the right time, Goodwill. Salvation Army, or any other such thrift store can produce a real bargain, but it is not a source you can count on. Still, if there is a thrift store you are passing, give it a try.

You May Need a New Book

Publishing companies try to limit used book sales. To prevent having too few new book sales they come out with new editions frequently. If you need a new edition, you will not find any used books.

Another time when your might look only for new books is if the book is made especially for your course. Unless you find someone who took the course in the past, or have a bookstore that buys books back, an online search might be futile. And in such cases contacting the publisher may be useless. Special versions of a book are often made to fill orders with a minimum of books being ordered. Do you really need ten books alike?

If the college prints the book, finding it outside of the college’s bookstore will be very difficult.

Amazon and eBay

Both Amazon and eBay offer books. In fact, they offer both new and used books. And they offer some protection. If they book is ordered, they give assurance it will be delivered, or a refund will be given. Just follow their guidelines for having your purchase protected.

Add to Your Purchase for Better Results

Publishers often offer solution manuals with worked out problems, study guides, videos on DVDs, and other support materials. If you buy things bundled the cost is reduced. So, think about what would help you study and consider bundling it. Of course to do this you might want to go directly to the publisher’s website. If a bundle is offered, take its ISBN and search on Amazon. If the publisher offers it, Amazon probably also offers it, and textbooks cost enough that you might qualify for free shipping with Amazon.

Please let us know your opinion.

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    • Linda Pogue profile image

      Linda Pogue 4 years ago from Missouri

      I purchased many of my textbooks online through Amazon. The thing you really have to watch for is edition number and also make sure used books you purchase have the CD included, if the class uses it.

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 6 years ago

      I found that students who dropped out of courses (within the first weeks of school) would post text books for sale on a community board (at college or university). Definitely worth checking out. Thanks for even more tips, eBay has made it easier for many students on tight budgets too (and who isn't on a tight budget these days)?