3 Tried-And-True Tips For Buying Cheap Textbooks

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very cheap textbooksThe start of my fall semester classes is approaching faster than I want, marking the inevitable end of a spectacular summer for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the process of getting ready for school like obtaining new supplies and textbooks. As a veteran textbook buyer, I get very cheap textbooks thanks to a few things I have learned from being in school for so long.

Don’t want to drain your wallet from buying textbooks? One thing you have to do is start early. Like if you’re about to start your semester, I’d say, do it right after reading this article! Purchasing them early prevents troubles later on, like not finding an affordable version, missing early assignments, having to find someone to borrow the book from, or worst case, having to succumb to ridiculous college bookstore prices.

What additional steps can you follow to get reasonably-priced textbooks? Read on to find out!

Use A Comparative Textbook Search Engine (Like Big Words)

You have Amazon, Google Play, Ebay, and a bunch of other book stores online that you can choose from. That means there might be different prices for that textbook you’re after. What better than a search engine that also compares the item for you? Big Words is one such engine that also chooses the single best store price for you, but it also lets you see the entire list of prices that it drew its conclusion from. Here is a screenshot of an actual search for a textbook that I’ll need in a few weeks.

very cheap textbooks

As you can see, BigWords is a pretty sophisticated search engine with plenty of features. You can choose whether to include a specific type of book, like rental items, international editions, when you need your book by (so it can filter out stores that don’t offer express delivery), the textbook quality you will tolerate, etc. You won’t find those in regular bookstores, even if they’re veteran marketplaces like Amazon’s since their search engines are not built exclusively for textbooks like Big Words’ is.

If your university or college has a site to buy textbooks from, chances are, it offers a comparison feature. My school, in fact, has such a thing, which is great because it automates what I already do (shop around).

cheap textbooks

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As you can see in the screenshot, if I buy the textbook from the official store, it might be around forty bucks, whereas on Amazon and Half (my favorite textbook store), it could be about $4. The condition of the textbook might differ but you can seriously appreciate the price difference. I emphasize this observation because if you do what I said at the beginning (shop early and not wait till the week that classes begin), you’ll probably have to pony up the full amount at the physical bookstore in order to use the textbook for a very early-assigned project.

Rent! Here’s Why

So I used to believe that if you’re going to pay for something, you might as well own it. In other words, I thought renting was a rip-off in the long term, except for housing since that’s usually extremely expensive. But if you’re talking about textbooks, renting is not a bad deal because when you finish the semester and try to sell the book, you usually get an absurd buyback offer from your local bookstore. Even if you try to sell it online on Half, you’ll have a hard time selling your book at full (or close to full) price. Trust me, I have been only able to sell my textbooks when I price them very low, which means I lose a lot and the book, in the end, cost me about as much as the renting price.

cheap textbooks

Another good reason to rent is that you don’t have to experience the headache that is trying to sell that textbook of yours. When you rent, the return policy makes it very straightforward to simply drop the book off either at the post office or at the physical bookstore. I have rented from my local college bookstore, which means that all I have to do to return my rentals is walk over.

Get Alternative Versions If You Must: Older Editions, E-Textbook, International

very cheap textbooks

If you truly want to save some money, older editions, international editions and electronic versions might be options to consider. I have had at least one older edition of a textbook, many international versions, as well as e-books. After buying so many, I now only recommend the e-book format IF you have a tablet because otherwise, you’ll need to lug around your heavy laptop everywhere, and honestly, when you have your laptop connected to the Internet, how productive can you get?

I also only recommend older editions as viable options IF your professor actually says you can get either the old or current edition and that the two are fairly similar. I would also love to get international versions of textbooks since their contents are usually identical to the US versions, if it weren’t for the fact that the buyback prices for these versions are considerably lower than the US versions. This makes sense since you got it at an extremely good deal to begin with.

What tried-and-true tips do you have that you want to share for college students and textbook-buying? Are there any places with very cheap textbooks? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credit: Woman Holding A Pile Of Books Image Via Shutterstock, Wesley Fryer, Paul Stainthorp

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Comments (21)
  • John E. Boy

    My two favorite comparison sites in order are…




    Thanks for writing the article. You’re helping a lot of people that are just starting out this year.

  • ofer

    Here is another price comparison site that compares all leading textbook merchants:


  • VictorGeis

    Great article! Usually I’ll sell my books to friends for around half the original price so both of us get a relatively good deal. Also, I’ll try to split the cost with a friend or two. It’s a little inconvenient but it is very cost effective.

  • Jared Whitley

    Many college campuses also have online posting boards that allow you to get a great deal on many books. I have found a number of my books cheaper to purchase than to rent.

    • Jessica Cam Wong

      I haven’t heard of such thing for my school, but that sounds great!

  • xbalesx

    College kids, this is a must. Stop buying for $100 and reselling for $10 when you’re done with it.

    • Jessica Cam Wong

      That’s true! You can probably buy a textbook for half the price and sell it for a bit less than the price you paid for, instead of selling it back to the bookstore. The latter will usually offer a dismal amount.

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.