Cheap College Textbooks

If you’re a student about to enter into college, or the parent of a student about to go to college, you’ve probably heard some pretty frightening rumors about how sky high the prices of textbooks are. 

I have some bad news. The rumors were true. 

If you want to survive the first couple of weeks of the semester with your wallet and your sanity intact, you’re going to have to skip the university bookstore and get clever about where you’re getting your books. There are a couple of generalized tips that most people will tell you – buy used, buy online and rent instead of buy, but even a used college algebra book at a textbook reseller can run you upwards of 100 dollars. No, if you’re really looking to save money, you’re going to have to get trickier than that.

Buy Used – But Not Where You’d Think

Used books are going to be cheaper than brand new ones. But used textbooks sold at University bookstores, or at college town stores engineered specifically to resell textbooks to students, are still going to overprice even used books. And even the markdown when you go to used books won’t be that big. The real cheap used books are going to be in chain second-hand bookstores, like Half-Price Books, or in locally-run, locally-owned bookstores. If you’re willing to hunt around a few dusty bargain bins, you can find textbooks for a quarter or an eighth of the price you would’ve found them elsewhere. This is especially helpful for literature or humanities courses, where most of the textbooks are really just paperbacks of easily-available classics.

Also, consider asking around your circle of friends and see if they have any textbooks that you need for next semester that they’re willing to part with for a couple of bucks. Chances are, your friends are looking to get rid of the clutter in their overcramped dorm rooms, and no college student in their right mind is going to turn down easy cash.

Buy Digital Copies 

With the advent of e-readers, more and more books are being made available in different forms online – not just for access on iPads or Kindles, but on regular desktop computers and laptops as well. Again, if you’re in a literature class where most of the books are reprints of old classics, chances are you can get copies for a few dollars on Amazon (and some classics, like ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or ‘Frankenstein,’ are offered for free.) Works in the public domain – meaning works that the original authors or the estates of those authors no longer hold copyright over – are available for free on sites like Project Gutenberg.

Even if your textbook is a big hulking biology or calculus textbook, there are a few places to find it online. Sites like CourseSmart offer digital copies of thousands of textbooks, for only a third to half the price you might pay for a physical copy at a textbook store. Digital copies are also going to be a lot easier on your back – instead of walking around campus carrying 40 pounds of books.


Believe it or not, a lot of your textbooks are going to be available at your school’s library. Often, college libraries will reserve a certain number of textbooks for large classes in order to make sure that students who can’t buy the textbook can still complete assignments. Some libraries will only let you check these copies out for a few hours, but that’s plenty of time to get the information you need, or copy the pages that you can’t get to in time.

Borrowing the textbook in question from the college’s library is also great for books that professors assign only a small section of to read. Nobody wants to spend 20 dollars on 20 pages worth of material, especially if that same material can be obtained for free.

Get to know your school’s library well, learn how to search for books in the library catalog, become friendly with the library staff, and you’ll never have to spend a dime on textbooks again.