We’ve researched various ways to save money on college textbooks, including tips for getting the best price on new and used books, buying digital ebooks or renting textbooks, plus a few other tricks.
Tips for maximizing your book buying (and returning) dollars
Here are some general guidelines for saving money when buying and returning textbooks for college courses:
Shop and compare textbook prices. Start with the list of materials for your courses and the bookstore at your college or university. Depending on the store, it can help to check online booksellers. To help you in your search, below we list some textbook price comparison tools.
Join a rewards program. If a store has a rewards, membership, or loyalty buying program, it can save you money on the purchase of textbooks and may offer other discounts on school supplies, and other special offers. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can also save substantially on books for just one term, which may offset the cost of the membership (currently $119/year).
Buy used books. Shop as early as possible before the term begins for the best selection of used books. Most students prefer like-new books. However, some students peruse used books and select the one with highlights and notes, if they feel it can help them learn quicker and retain the material. But read the studying tips below for more information on effective learning and note-taking techniques.
Buy ebooks. If a digital version is an option, it is normally lower cost than the print edition.
Rent books. Not all books can be rented. But new textbooks, as well as used and digital books may be offered as rentals at considerable savings over the price of owning a book. Just be sure to return the rental on time or you will incur additional costs.
Share a book. This can be a good option if you can reliably share the cost and use of the book with a trustworthy friend.
Buy a different (usually older) edition. This one can be tricky, so proceed with caution. It may create more headaches than the savings are worth. Call the instructor and ask if a different edition can be used than the one listed in the course material and/or plan to borrow another student’s book for any altered material in the newer edition.
Keep books in like new condition. You will get more money for the return if you keep your textbooks in new condition. Here are some things to consider:
- Always carry books in a backpack, book bag, or briefcase.
- Cover the book. Brown paper bags are a cheap, rugged option that you can write on without any worry.
- Develop good note-taking techniques without writing in or highlighting your book. Read the studying tips below for tips on effective note-taking.
Keep all book purchase receipts. Be sure to retain original purchase receipts. Many stores require the original receipt for all returns, especially if you want cash back rather than store credit.
If you drop a class, promptly return books within the stated deadline to receive full credit for a textbook for which you have dropped the class. You usually need to provide the original purchase receipt, as well as official proof of withdrawal from the class provided by the school.
Sell books back. Promptly return books for credit at the end of the term, no later than the week after you’ve completed final exams. Don’t delay, or the book return policy may change and you won’t be able to return all your books.
Not all books can be returned, but definitely take advantage of this option. Most students have no need for textbooks after a class is completed. The exception is textbooks for advanced classes in your field of study, or any book that you found especially interesting.
Textbook price comparison tools
The following book price comparison tools are two of the best sites I’ve found. You can enter the ISBN number, author, and/or title to find and compare textbook prices from many booksellers.
- BookFinder.com finds new and used textbooks from booksellers worldwide.
- Amazon Textbooks offers rental, new, used, and digital textbooks.
How to study without writing in textbooks
Here are links to study techniques and effective note-taking that don’t include writing in your textbooks. These not only keep your books like new, they improve your ability to learn.
- Effective Study Techniques from UW CSE 190b.
- Strategies for Note Taking from University of Washington.
- Best Techniques for Taking Notes from lifehacker.com.
- How to become a more effective learner from verywell.com.