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Books on a Budget: Tips for University students.

Updated on February 7, 2016


You’ve done it! You’ve passed your A-Levels (or equivalent exams) and have been accepted into University!

You go onto the uni website, or receive some course information in the post to you and – wow! Just look at the reading list for the year! So many fascinating-looking text books or required reading.

But how much is all that going to cost?

The answer is, quite a lot. Many academic textbooks are expensive even online, partially because there aren’t as many people looking to buy them as the next popular fiction book, but also because most of the people buying them don’t have much choice in the matter. Welcome to your first lesson in student budgeting.


Don’t buy all of your textbooks before you start the course

Sellers know that Summer before Michaelmas term is the time when most people will be looking for textbooks- and the prices often reflect this. Additionally, although that reading list might look incredibly lengthy now, depending on the type of course you are doing you might not need all of the textbooks listed.


How to decide what to buy

If your course has sent you a list of modules, focus on the first one and then look at the prices and budget how much you can afford to spend in advance. (Obviously, if you’re studying literature then you should get at least the first books on your list and try to read them in advance). For my final year of Undergrad, for example, I budgeted £100 but obviously by then I was more familiar with what I was likely to need. There will be plenty of ways to order a book after your course starts if it turns out to be needed more and, as is mentioned below, there may be ways to get a copy of a book that you won’t be able to use until you’re actually on campus.

Ways to get cheap textbooks

Amazon is usually people’s first port of call, particularly the amazon seller’s pages for second hand copies but when it comes to textbooks it isn’t always the cheapest option. You should always shop around first- see what the book is being sold for on Amazon, Waterstones etc and then get a bit more creative:


Example: "Invented Moralities Sexual Values in an Age of Uncertainty" by J. Weeks

Amazon Sellers
£2.80 (including postage)
Very Good cond


Book sellers often list their book on ebay and amazon, and sometimes the difference in price can be marked. Additionally, many students will list their old textbooks on ebay and some may not be aware, or care, about the going rate on other sites- they just want to get rid of them quickly.



A really good resource for second hand books- abebooks has links to a lot of secondhand booksellers all over the world- but be cautious- if you do order from there keep an eye on the postage as some packages will be sent overseas and thus can take many weeks to arrive.


Another resource for second hand items- like ebay, many individuals selling textbooks are out to make room quickly in their homes and so more likely to sell things cheaply.



University pages, bookselling online, auction pages- a lot of people are selling online these days. Unless you find a specific page for your course or subject area however, or live in a city where other students might live, books are not as easy to find.

Shop around

Try this trick: if you see someone selling on amazon or ebay and they are obviously a company- try seeing if they have their own website. I did this with a textbook and found the seller Awesomebooks. Because they have to pay seller fees on Ebay and Amazon the same book that was marked up as £50 on there was less than £30 on their website! (And that was far cheaper than amazon’s new copies of said book, which was about £85.)



Your university library will have copies of popular texts on campus - many have online copies now, and also online catalogues so you may be able to try before you buy. Additionally, your local public library may order books in for a small fee, which can be a real help to spread the costs of expensive textbooks.


When you arrive on campus, there will be a hoarde of students from the previous year selling their textbooks via online forums or noticeboards in halls. Keep an eye out for these, again, fellow students are less likely to charge you the earth for something they have no further use for.

Equally, charity shops and second hand shops near to university campuses are more likely to sell textbooks than small town ones- after all, the market is there.

Budget, budget, budget

If you haven't ever had to budget for yourself before, you will undoubtedly find the University experience new - did you ever realise how much toilet rolls and milk cost? - you soon will!

Don't worry too much about buying up the whole list in advance- if you want to read ahead a little then that's great but once you get started you'll soon find that some of your reading list are far more use than others!

Happy studying!


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    • owlish profile image

      owlish 2 years ago from Cheshire

      Thank you for your kind comments, I'm glad to hear it applies elsewhere in the world as well :)

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 2 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Good advice. Most of it applies in the United States, too.

      There are numerous companies that specialize in buying and selling used textbooks online. For starters, Google on:

      textbooks used OR cheap

    • owlish profile image

      owlish 2 years ago from Cheshire

      Thank you for reading and sharing- is a really good resource- and and interesting one too :)

    • Elderberry Arts profile image

      Claire 2 years ago from Surrey, Uk

      I am home educating my son and have found some good resources on We have only used books but I believe they also have software and music as well.

    • owlish profile image

      owlish 2 years ago from Cheshire

      Thank you both for your comments. VirginiaLynn that is an excellent point sometimes the internet can be surprising in sharing books for free and certainly anything published that is now beyond copyright is definitely worth looking up online on somewhere like project Gutenberg or as a free Ebook :-)

    • Elderberry Arts profile image

      Claire 2 years ago from Surrey, Uk

      Very useful Hub. Thank you for sharing.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 2 years ago from United States

      I teach Freshman English and recently found that a version of my book is actually online as a pdf. I don't think this is legal and it might be taken off, but it certainly doesn't hurt to see if the book you need is online. Most certainly you can get a lot of classic books for free if you don't mind the fact that you won't have the same page numbers as the professor's edition.