10 Smart Ways to Save Money on College Textbooks if You’re a Student

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person holding a stack of college textbooks

College is expensive!

Luckily, textbooks can be one of the easiest ways to save some money. Whether you have a student about to start their college journey or you’re going back to school for your Master’s, here are some smart ways to save some money on those expensive textbooks!

1. Score books on Amazon for 90% less.

hand holding amazon 100 dollar gift card

Amazon has everything now, including the Amazon Textbooks Store, where you can score new or used college textbooks for 90% off their regular retail price. And with Prime Student, you’ll even get free, 2-day shipping.

As a bonus, Amazon will let you trade in any textbook once you’re done in exchange for an Amazon gift card, regardless if you bought it there or not.

Hip Tip: Make sure you’re getting the absolute best deal on your textbook with CampusBooks.com. You can compare prices on new or used books from top brands such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Chegg, eCampus.com and save up to 90% off.

2. Buy digital books and carry less stuff.

barnes and noble sign

Whenever you can score them, digital books are the way to go – they don’t add a ton of weight to your backpack, and they’re environmentally friendly!

Search online at Barnes & Noble to see if the book you need is available as an e-book (or NOOK book). You can also rent electronic college textbooks, so you won’t have to worry about reselling, or returning your book! To boot, digital copies are typically significantly cheaper than hard copies. And they’re virtually impossible to misplace or damage by accident.

Hip Tip: Digital books are also great because you can do control+f for quick content searches. You’re welcome. 😉

3. Check out Facebook Marketplace to score bargains.

hand holding phone with facebook marketplace on screen

Long gone are the days when you had to know someone looking for the specific book you once paid full price for. Now students can post their books for sale on Facebook, so it’s a great way to source used books locally. You can also check Craigslist if you don’t luck out on Facebook. (Chances are, those college students will haggle to pay for some groceries.) 😉

4. Head to the library for free books.

huge three story library

You may need additional novels to get you through a college class, or you might need to borrow a textbook while you’re waiting for yours to arrive. Your local library or campus library is a great (and free) resource.

5. Share books with a roommate.

women reading and writing at picnic table

If you have a close friend, relative, or roommate who’ll be in the same class, consider sharing a textbook together if you can wing it. Of course, this will take some planning and confidence that both parties will take good care of the book. That said, it’s more than worth it when you can score the textbook for 50% off since you went halfsies. 

Hip Tip: Invest in some Post-It notes if you can’t use a highlighter – especially if you plan to return the book (or share it).

6. Buy an older version of the book you need.

man at library reading book

Often times, newer books aren’t much (if at all) different than their slightly older version. In many cases for new textbooks, the page numbers are different and they just look nicer overall.

According to the Calpirg Higher Education Project, newer editions cost about 58% more than the older version. If you don’t mind doing a little more hunting for info during a lecture, this will be a great alternative. Before buying an older version, compare the two books to make sure there are no major differences.

7. Don’t buy your books before class starts.

student holding red folder with headphones on neck

For some classes, you may not need your textbook right away. Especially if you’re unsure of a class, see if you can get by without purchasing your book during the trial period since you may end up dropping the class. The last thing you want to do is spend money on a book you won’t use at all!

Hip Tip: You may also want to check your syllabus to see what text you’ll be studying. If the content you need in a textbook is actually public access, you may not even need to buy or rent a book at all.

8. Spend Financial Aid funds on your textbooks.

girl typing on computer laptop

Make every dollar count when you’re using financial aid while attending college. Check with your school to see if you can use your Financial Aid return on future book purchases. Or in some cases, colleges will allow you to channel some of your money toward books to alleviate expenses.

Hip Tip: This option might not be available at all colleges, so check with your Financial Aid office to see what other alternatives or additional savings might be available to you.

9. Or spend scholarship funds or grants to pay for your books.

money bills and coins in glass jar

Since all scholarships and grants are used differently, check the terms of your money coming in before planning to pay for your books with them. However, in some cases, you’ll be able to use this money for your textbooks.

Hip Tip: If you don’t already have a scholarship or grant, check out the many ways to apply for scholarships or grants to help with costs.

10. Rent textbooks if you don’t need them long term.

women reading open textbook

If you don’t need a textbook for the long haul, renting it online may be a great alternative. My Hip team member Jamie recently used knetbooks.com and had great success! Here’s why she loves it:

  • You can choose your rental period depending on your needs.
    • Short term, quarter, or for a whole semester.
  • You can choose when to return it with extended return periods.
  • You’ll never forget when it’s due with text reminders.
  • Everything ships free.

Want more? Check out THESE college-related posts:

Sara is a self-taught blogger and photographer with 5 years of experience having work featured in various building, travel, and fashion publications, most notably Bassett Furniture and Fossil.

Join The Discussion

Comments 28

  1. Bethany

    As a former college student, I would like to say renting is by far the best way to get textbooks. Of course, not everyone can depending on the major, but if you can it will save you a ton.

    Although I did have financial aid for textbooks, I typically never used it and just paid out of pocket upfront for books and received the refund later. Books are always more overpriced at the campus bookstore compared to other rental places. So I figured why not get that extra money in a refund? I know not all students can do this but it is an option.

    Amazon textbook rental and chegg helped save me a lot. I always suggest looking around on diff sites and comparing costs before purchasing.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks so much for taking a moment to share your experience, Bethany! Good to know renting worked out so well for you!

  2. Kay

    My kids have used this website – https://www.campusbooks.com. It shows the price for purchases, rentals, etc. for your books for a bunch of different sources so you can get the best price. It usually means that you are getting your books from more than one place, but my kids have saved so much money they say that it doesn’t matter that their books are coming in different shipments!

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Oh cool! Thanks a bunch for the helpful suggestion!

  3. Rosa

    My daughter and son used Bigwords.com. They compare all websites and include coupons and even break out shipping costs so you can see the total price of a book. It includes both options to rent or buy. Saved our family TONS of money!!

    • tipaye

      Agreed, I love that site!

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      SWEET! Thanks for sharing with us, Rosa! Good to know!

  4. kayti

    Try hoopla! I’ve used it MANY times for books and text books for FREE! Also, don’t use a loan for it. Trust me you will end up paying WAY more with interest than you would using another one of these methods!

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks so much for the helpful comment!

    • Cherryluva

      Hi. I’m new to student loans, and am curious as why you said dont use loans?

  5. Lizzie

    I always use offer up for textbooks. Just search for the isbn to make sure it’s the right one. I’ve gotten $200 math books for $70…better than renting imo because you can resell it when you’re done.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Oh wow! Thanks for letting us know what has worked best for you! I use to like to resell my books!

  6. Sarah

    I got an international edition of books several times. You can’t sell them back, so it’s best if you plan on keeping it or have someone you can sell it to afterwards, but you’ll save a lot of money.

  7. MT

    I’m a professor. If any law students are reading this, please do not follow the advice to use outdated editions of your casebooks! Using old editions is truly terrible advice for any law students. Students who show up with old editions cannot find assignments when called on to answer question like “what is the court’s point in the opinion at the bottom of p. 454?” These students always end up lost in class and frantically flipping pages when analyze specific passages. Worst of all, they sometimes do very poorly on exams by citing outdated law that’s no longer referenced in the current edition. Also, even if you buy a used current edition, please be aware that there’s often online companion content from the publishers now that your professors may expect you to be able to access (and even assign on the syllabus), so buying a used book may mean shelling out another $30 for an online access key to go with your used edition. The access keys are usually included in the new editions but don’t transfer.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Oh wow! Thanks a TON for mentioning that information, MT!

  8. Ro

    As a (struggling) college student, here are some tips and personal experiences.

    I never used Financial Aid to cover for my books, never understood why students would do this. Pay for books out of pocket. You will receive a larger refund – it appears many students can’t make sense of this. If you’re using Financial Aid, you’re restricted to the school’s bookstore where prices are inflated. Stay away from the university bookstore, if that is not possible, ask if they price match – most do!

    I use various websites, Chegg, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and Thriftbooks. Thriftbooks.com is my favorite – you earn points that can later be redeemed for books. Shipping is free when you spend $10. I tend to purchase my books before the semester commences and have secured better deals this way (Price and demand? Not sure.) If purchasing textbooks before the academic term begins, I suggest contacting your instructor to ensure class material.

    Renting textbooks has saved me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
    I advise renting schoolbooks for courses irrelevant to your major. Reflecting on my undergrad, I wish someone would have shared this with me. There are several textbooks I immensely regret not purchasing. These are books that could have assisted me with additional courses in my academic career.

    Now textbook access codes are the enemy. Courses that require access codes force students to purchase books at retail prices. I have no advice in this area.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks so much for sharing your tips and experience with us! It sure is helpful!

  9. Shayleen

    I second Bigwords.com! I graduated just a couple years ago and saved tons of money by using Bigwords when I was buying my textbooks! It’s like the Hip2Save for curating textbook deals!

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      How neat! Glad that site helped you snag such great savings!

  10. Lori

    What a great post! Thanks for all the info and advice.

    • Collin (Mrs. Hip)

      You are SO welcome, Lori! Glad these tips were helpful!

  11. Lucy

    Also professors shouldn’t mention a book on the syllabus if it won’t be used during the semester. As a freshman, I purchased a $200 textbook that was on the syllabus and never opened the book, it wasn’t needed. Some professors actually help you out and tell you where to find a low cost version of the textbook or if you can use an older version (if you aren’t sure, email them and ask) because they know most students are low on money.

    • Dee

      I knew professors that put their books (the ones they’d authored) on the syllabus to increase their sales. Not fair to the students at all. I always separated required books from references on the syllabus. Some profs don’t even know how much the books cost, since they can often get a free copy on spec. I always kept price in mind and the books I required were workbooks used in class almost every day.

  12. Kailey

    It’s an extension on sharing with a roommate, but you can potentially share the book with anyone in the class! That is how I got to know the man who became my husband- I asked to share with a friend who was sharing with him while waiting for her book to come in! Once it did, he said since he lived closer he’d just keep bringing me the book when he was done. When we had been dating for a year, he gave me the book with a love letter written a word per page and I gave him another copy of it that I wrote in on our wedding day five years ago. Yay for book sharing!!!!

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Oh how sweet! Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Kailey! LOVE that! 💖

  13. Jain

    As one of several who went to college at the same time, this is some of what we did to minimize textbook costs.

    We almost never bought from the campus book store unless they had a used edition that was competitively priced. Ebay, craigslist, Amazon, Half Price Books, and Abe Books were the places we went to most if the time. And if you’re buying off craigslist or Facebook, don’t we afraid to make an offer, usually the seller is open to anything fair. If an access code was needed, I would check places like Ebay or craigslist. Most of the time I could find them cheaper, and the code usually comes with a digital copy of the book. Some Ebay sellers will be able to tell you if the code is the right one if you give them the course number.

    Slugbooks is a price comparing website that we used a lot to compare purchase and rental prices for several books at the same time.

    A lot of times I’d email the professor a week or two before semester and ask if I could use an older or international edition. Most of the time they were ok with that and knew of some of the differences to look out for. Professors told me all the time that they couldn’t outright tell the class not to buy the book, publisher agreements or something like that, but that it might not be needed all that much. One professor was even nice enough to let me use one of her extra copies when I stopped by her office to ask about the textbook.

    Rentals were a hit and miss for us, but we always checked to be sure. If we could rent a book for about the same as buying it, then we would just buy it and sell it when we’re done and get our money back. Also, holding onto textbooks might mean a new edition comes out by the time you get around to selling it, so keep that in mind.

    We never sold our books back to the school or local book stores because they paid so much less. Instead, I’d write what I paid on the inside page and that’s what I’d sell it for. Since I hunted for the best price, I was usually able to sell the book pretty fast. If there’s a forum the students use, that’s another good place to advertise your textbooks.

    End of semester was usually a bad time to sell since students were done with class and not thinking about the books they’d need for next semester, unless that class was offered in the summer or as a minimester.

    Sorry this is so long, but I wanted to include everything we learned over the years. Happy hunting!

  14. Andy

    Before spending any money on books do a google search of the title (maybe author) with “.pdf” at the end. Many college libraries have free online editions and you don’t even have to be a student to download it. This works for other books to FYI. Wish I had this tip the first 3 years of college…

    • Andy

      Also, if you are near an Ollies Bagain Outlet, they have a large selection of cheap books. I have found some of the books I purchased (for much more $) there. Good if you are taking a literature class.

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