Ultimate Guide to Buying College Textbooks (Cheaply!)

The first time I had to buy my own textbooks, I spent around $700. I was clueless, and it was horrible. College textbook shopping can be super hard, especially when your book list is massive and your campus bookstore has price tags in the triple digits (is that tiny book REALLY worth $100?!). Luckily, if you’re willing to do a little bit of searching, there’s a lot of options for lowering that price tag.

Used books

As a college student on a budget, used books are your go-to. Forget new books, nobody needs that! Give me the 10$ book that looks so horrible, like maybe  some frat guys used it as a hockey puck. Give me the duck taped spines and mildew spells–that is where it’s at. Your campus bookstore probably has a used books section and ALWAYS CHECK THAT STUFF FIRST. There’s tons of online resources as well that include used sellers. The only thing to remember with back alley used sellers is they often can take their sweet time mailing books to you, so make sure you have enough time before ordering. The best thing about used books is they’re yours and you can write in them/ruin them as much as your heart desires.


I have a love/hate relationship with rental books. They’re usually much cheapter (USUALLY, but not always), which is super great, but I hate that you can’t sell them back, and I hate how much pressure comes along with having to return them. For some reason I always feel like it’s a crime to write/mark them up in any way. I always seem to break down mid-semester and underline anyway because I just can’t handle not annotating my reading. Luckily, my school never checks so this has never been a problem when returning them, but this is definitely something to consider if you like to write in your books.

Online books

Sometimes, you can find your books online for free or at a greatly reduced price. This is even more handy if you have an ipad or ereader which you can use these books on. The only drawback is there’s no easy way to make notes in the margins or highlight (some apps offer this but it’s not the same, in my opinion). Before you proceed with this method, check with your professor. Some get antsy about online materials.

Sell your old books

Don’t be a hoarder! Sell your old textbooks to get some of your money back. Unhappy with your schools quote? Look for online selling options, sometimes you can get free shipping and more cash for your books at online retailers as opposed to your campus bookstore buyback.

Wait it out

I’ve never personally tried this method, but I’ve seen it work for my friends. Basically, this is where you go into the semester with no books whatsoever and only get the textbooks you actually end up needing. It’s happened to everyone that you went through all this trouble and expense to purchase a book that you never picked up once. What a waste! If you’re willing to gamble with this step, go for it. You’ll probably save a lot of money. The only drawback is that you will be forced to rush order or pay the dreaded bookstore price if you end up needing a book last minute.

Resource list

Here are some of my favorite textbook resources!

  • Amazon Textbooks This is by far my favorite resource. Check under the used books section and you’ll usually find some stellar prices! Books for a penny anyone?
  • Chegg This resource was recommended to me by a friend and it’s worked out pretty well so far with the rentals I’ve tried.
  • Big Words Basically the expedia of textbooks.
  • Student Book Trades You can list your own books for sale and buy from others.
  • Textbook Recycling When you buy a book, 12% goes to charity so I’m down.
  • Book Boon Loads of free textbooks available online.

Good luck with your shopping! Don’t settle for campus bookstore prices! How do you save money on books?