Save Money on College Textbooks

How to Get Free or Cheap College TextbooksWhen I was an academic advisor, I used to just cringe when I saw the lines of students that wound through the campus bookstore and around the corner.

The college bookstore is THE most expensive place to buy your college textbooks.

Now, let me say that I understand why many students choose to buy their books at the college bookstore. It’s incredibly convenient, and if you’re planning to use financial aid to pay for books, it can make financial sense, too.

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But when I was in college, I was caught in the middle class…. my family made too much money for me to get much financial aid, but not enough for me to afford college comfortably. My budget was extremely tight.

So, if you’re stuck in the middle like I was, here are some ways to save money on college textbooks.

How to get free college textbooks

Trade books with a friend. One semester I took Environmental Science, the next semester, Psychology. A good friend of mine did just the opposite and we were able to trade books. You may also be able to borrow books from a friend.

Borrow the books from the library. One of my former students told me she would borrow her literature books for English from the public library. Sure, you can’t write in it and you may have to renew it, but it’s free.

Check to see what resources your academic learning center has. At some campuses, students can read many college textbooks at the library. They have to stay in the library, but that just means you will have to study! Some academic learning centers will also allow you to borrow recorders or calculators, too!

Try Freecycle. Put a request out on Freecycle. You may find that someone has the books you need just collecting dust on a shelf and would be willing to let you have them for free.

How to get cheap college textbooks

Buy used. Whenever possible, buy used textbooks. A brand-spanking new textbook is nice, but it’s like buying a new car – it loses value the second you buy it. Look for used textbooks in good condition and you’ll save.

Check out the college bulletin boards. Many times you can find used textbooks for less than what the college bookstore sells them for. Plus you’re helping out a fellow college student.

Check out what’s available online. When my husband was in grad school, he saved a ton of money on his books by buying them online.  A lot of great retailers have gotten into selling used textbooks. Check out, and Amazon to see how prices compare. You should also investigate whether it’s better to buy or rent textbooks from a place like

And don’t forget to put the word out on Facebook and Craigslist. You may be able to score a great deal using social media, too.

A final piece of advice

 on saving on college textbooks

Remember, great deals on used college textbooks will take some time. You can’t wait until the last minute to save some money. You’ll also need to know the name of the book, author, edition, and ISBN number, in order to make sure you’re getting the exact books you need.

Fortunately, the savings is well worth the time invested.

Your turn: What ways have you saved on college textbooks?

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About Christina Brown

Christina is a wife and mother dedicated to figuring out how to live a simpler, happier life on a budget.


  1. Debbie M says

    My daughter studied abroad in Australia a few years ago. One of her books ran $165. She checked Amazon and found a used copy in the US for $11. I purchased the copy, put it in a flat rate box (20# for $55.00), filled the rest of the box with little things she could use and sent it off. Not only did we save almost a hundred dollars, but she received extra goodies that were quite expensive overseas.

  2. Taryn says

    I’ve had professors tell me that it was a requirement to assign books, so I either asked professors which books if any were absolutely needed or I found someone who had taken the class previously and asked them. Professors almost always have to assign the latest edition, ask them if a previous one (that you can probably get cheaper or free) would be ok. Also, I occasionally found it an option to share a book with a friend.

    • Debbie M says

      My kids found that at least half the books assigned by professors turned out to be optional, so there was always the fine line between early bargain hunting and waiting for the class reality.

      • says

        That’s true, too. If you can find someone that has had the same class with the same instructor, you can sometimes find out how necessary the textbook is ahead of time.

  3. Carol Lazette says

    Seriously? email your professors and explain to them you are on a tight financial budget and ask them if the previous edition is okay usually these are next to NOTHING on Amazon, and if this does not work check local libraries, even your college library, most have statewide exchange programs. I am in my third year of school at Kent State University and I RARELY buy any books

    • says

      I love the idea of using libraries for text books, but using the previous edition is usually pretty tough to do. As a former academic adviser and someone married to a college instructor, I can tell you that some textbooks change substantially, and only the brightest, most-focused students can have a good experience using the previous editions.

  4. says

    A couple of things… Students should try a price comparison website that specializes in used, rental, and new textbook price comparison, such as my site, You want to pick a website that is able to run real-time price checks because textbook prices and inventory levels are really dynamic. When you search for books, try to use the ISBN numbers to ensure you are getting the right editions.

    One thing I recommend to my website visitors is that they might consider becoming a bookseller and cutting out the middleman. You can create a free seller account on Amazon Marketplace or eBay’s and resell your used books for the price you paid. You will have to pay a final value fee that is a percentage of the sale price, but the amount saved will be more than what you would get if you sold the book back to an online bookseller and way more than selling back to the campus bookstore.

  5. Rachael says

    My text books for this semester were $720.00 total. So back right after midterms last semester I went online price comparison with some prior editions. Shipping and handling included I spent $17.00 on all 4 books. And my other class is testing a book out from another school before the author releases for wide term use. We use his online language software for free all we have to do is report any errors we find and recommend any changes we would like to see it just costs the price of printing.

  6. says

    I really wish I had done more research when I was in my undergrad program so that I saved more money on textbooks. Now that I’ve been in my master’s degree program, I’ve found a bunch of great sites to save money on textbooks (, textbookrenter, amazon)… I hope that students take advantage of these resources!

  7. Jill says

    being an English major, I have found half price books is a fabulous place to get books. They have a lot of the anthologies I have to read and more times than not the lit books I need too. I also use my kindle, which makes it a ton easier to carry books as well getting most books cheaper than if I had a hard copy. The only disadvantage is the occasional professor who won’t let you use an ereader as a source. But you can just note the part of the book you are citing and borrow a classmates copy to get the citation.

  8. Darby says

    I went to I would wait and ask the professor how important the book was and if an older edition was acceptable. A lot of the time and older edition is fine. I once got an English text book for 50 cents because of it. I got all four textbooks that semester for less than $20.

  9. Sarah Smithson says

    I use,,, and to compare prices. Student Prime also makes many of these books very affordable, as does opting to rent textbooks. All of these websites offer free shipping both ways for rentals. In total, using all of these sites, I found all of my 10 textbooks for $124.

  10. Ashley says

    I ordered $130 worth of books from and only spent $10. They do 15-30% off for used textbooks around back to school time. I have yet to find custom discounted text books. My spanish 101 cost a pretty penny because it was specifically for my college. I looked everywhere and couldn’t find it for less than $80. But I saved a ton on my other books!

  11. JUlI says

    Both of our kids used ihatetextbooks to quickly compare prices across a lot of different sites and saved us a lot of money.

  12. says

    You offer some very good tips and good resources that lower the cost of textbooks. The problem is with all which source is cheaper on a specific book at a specific time? One tip is to use a textbook price comparison service to quickly see everyone’s price across all the different media types. Sites like cover over 50 online textbook sellers and rental, used and even international version pricing.

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