3 Tried-And-True Tips For Buying Cheap Textbooks

Jessica Cam Wong 23-08-2012

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

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 The 11 Best Sites to Get College Textbooks Online Don't let college textbooks empty your pockets every semester. Use these websites to buy or rent cheap college books. Read More in order to use the textbook for a very early-assigned project.

Rent The 10 Best Sites To Rent Or Buy College TextBooks Cheaply Today's generation has the best of the online and offline worlds. We didn’t have websites which told us where to find (rent or buy) cheap textbooks. But today’s generation just has to type in a... Read More ! 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 3 Websites To Purchase Electronic College Textbooks One of the biggest shocks for me when I first enrolled in college was the insane cost of textbooks. Unfortunately, there is really no way to cut out this problem, but if you don't want... Read More , 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

Explore more about: Buying Tips, Ebooks, Education Technology, Reading, Save Money, Study Tips.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Enjoyed this article? Stay informed by joining our newsletter!

Enter your Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. John E. Boy
    September 4, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    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.

  2. VictorGeis
    August 27, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    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.

  3. Jared Whitley
    August 24, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    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
      August 30, 2012 at 3:45 am

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

  4. xbalesx
    August 24, 2012 at 3:49 am

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

    • Jessica Cam Wong
      August 30, 2012 at 3:45 am

      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.

  5. Shakirah Faleh Lai
    August 23, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    Just post those books straight to home when finished studies, need to pay more for the shipping cost. I never rent a textbook because my brother and sister had bought most of the copies before plus I'll need the textbooks when finished.

    • Jessica Cam Wong
      August 30, 2012 at 3:43 am

      I think it's kind of rare when all the college-age offspring in a family shares the same major and thus needs the same textbooks, so I think you're quite lucky you didn't have those expenses!

      • Shakirah Faleh Lai
        August 30, 2012 at 2:56 pm

        What can I say we have the same interest so we took the same major. My elder brother and sister are 2 to 3 year older than me, those books not too out dated.

        • Jessica Cam Wong
          August 31, 2012 at 6:47 pm


  6. 15e5dd8786fff10245cb2f2a2e661c7d
    August 23, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    I never was big on renting or selling back my textbooks, so by the time I graduated I had a big box of textbooks I needed to fedex. I definitely did love though. One thing you forgot to mention, BigWords not only compares the prices on different websites but it gives you coupon/promo codes if they are available for an even more low price.

    • Jessica Cam Wong
      August 30, 2012 at 3:30 am

      Good tip there! Thanks for spotting that!

  7. AP
    August 23, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    • Jessica Cam Wong
      August 30, 2012 at 3:41 am

      Yes, that's a good site to buy e-textbooks. Thanks for the input!

  8. Austin Halsell
    August 23, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    I'm not to much of a fan of renting books since the total cost of all your books tends to remain high ($150-250+) depending on the amount of classes and types of books. Although this is a lot better than paying for all new at the college/university bookstore which, with a full course load, can easily cost upwards of $350.

    Being in a science or math program it can seriously skyrocket. I was a humanities major, but, when taking my gen ed's, I knew not to take more than 1 or 2 math or science courses if I wanted to keep book costs down. If I had bought new one semester I would have had to spend $600 with only 5 courses, 1 of which the professor decided not to require the book because he thought it cost too much and it was the cheapest at only $50.

    Anyways, I always used to find good prices, but bigwords looks easier to use. I'd say that in most cases the previous edition will always be fine and ebooks are great too, just be sure that if your device is stolen/lost you still have access to the book.

    Lastly, college student, be prepared to be forced to spend a ton on any sort of web program or software that math and science teachers require. Most of those programs like (Math XL) cost about $70 and don't include the book. Worst of all, there is no alternative as teachers assign homework through those services and you cannot by "used" access codes. Oh, also, they are generally only good for one class or semester length time period.

    So glad I'm not at a university anymore!

    • Jessica Cam Wong
      August 30, 2012 at 3:35 am

      I suppose I'm lucky then because I can't say I have had experiences similar to yours. Firstly, the rental prices for my CS textbooks are usually 1/4 the new retail prices.

      Secondly, most of the programs I've had to use for my classes are free/open-source. I don't recall a single commercial program that was required for a CS class. The only thing that comes close to paying for your own equipment in my experience is taking a photography class, where you're expected to purchase your own camera.

      Thank you for sharing your detailed tips though! That is greatly appreciated!

    • Jessica Cam Wong
      August 30, 2012 at 3:39 am

      I suppose I'm lucky then since I can't say I've had experiences similar to yours.

      Firstly, the rental costs for my CS textbooks are usually 1/4 the new, retail prices.

      Secondly, I don't recall a single commercial program that was required for any of my CS classes since most of the ones we use are free or open-source. The only case where I heard that you had to pay for your own equipment is for a photography class, where as far as I know, you have to purchase your own camera.

      Either way, I'm thankful you shared your detailed accounts on how you got around to spending a ridiculous amount of money on textbooks. I'm sure students will appreciate those tips!

  9. VS Vishnu
    August 23, 2012 at 10:26 am


    August 23, 2012 at 6:56 am

    Great recommendations and alternatives. Going straight to second-hand bookstores has always worked well for me. Amazon's used books section is great as well.

  11. Tug Ricks
    August 23, 2012 at 5:15 am

    I'm a big fan of renting books. It's cheaper, and I don't have to worry about selling it after the semester.