Buying Textbooks on a Budget

Every college freshman is warned about the high cost of textbooks, and they never really get it until they buy their first textbook and have to shell out $150. However, this is actually unavoidable. If your professor requires a very specific edition, to be new, or to have a unique pass-code for an online textbook, then you’re just going to have to give in and make the purchase. For most other books, you should be able to find options that are less than half the price. Here’s how.


You don’t have to buy your textbook on campus, new, or even a physical copy.

There are quite a few places that you should turn before even heading to your on-campus bookstore. The first is definitely the internet.

Online Textbook Shopping

Take this common English 1301 textbook:


This is about how much you can expect to spend if you go on campus or don’t shop around. That’s a lot of Ramen. Now, taking that ISBN and searching for it online is going to make that price look a lot better.



If you take nothing else away from this article, remember this website. This is the be-all-end-all of textbook searches. You only have to provide it with your book’s ISBN number, title, author, or whatever information your professor gives to you. It will then compare the price of your textbook across all major textbook selling websites.

That’s at least half the price you would be paying. Plus, when you have multiple textbooks with savings like these, textbooks won’t be nearly as big of a burden when that time comes around every semester. But don’t stop there.



This is a really popular one and is known to be very reliable with fair prices. They also usually send some extra goodies with your textbook delivery. This is another good place to check.



This is another site with good savings and results.

General Google Search


Just searching for your textbook on Google will often give you some more obscure sites to check out. These you need to be careful with; however, if the price is considerably cheaper, and it seems to have good reviews, then give it a chance!



Especially if you live in a college town, chances are there are going to be a couple discount book stores. These will often have better savings, but still probably not quite as good as if you were to order it online. However, this does give you the comfort of knowing you have the correct book in your possession already and may be necessary if you need the textbook soon.

Goodwill and Other Secondhand Stores

This will probably only work if you’re in a college town, but sometimes students will donate their textbooks at the end of every semester. Checking around every once in a while may give you a chance of luck.


Ask around if anyone else has it. Post on Facebook, Twitter, and any other popular social apps on your campus. You can probably score it for crazy cheap or even free.

Renting versus Purchasing


Most textbook sites and even stores now offer the option of renting your textbook for just the semester. While this is going to save you money, this will also mean you can’t use the book as your own or keep it. This is usually a case-by-case decision.


If all you’re worried about is cost, then renting is definitely the way to go. It won’t add to your ever-growing pile of textbooks you never want to open again, and it’s really not a hard process. However there’s also reasons why you may want to buy it instead.


If your textbook comes with a special access code or has activities you need to complete in the book, then you’re going to have to buy it. If taking notes and highlighting is your thing, then you definitely need to buy the book so you can mark it up. Some people also enjoy keeping textbooks to refer to in later courses, as well as to keep throughout their career to recall important information. If that doesn’t interest you, there’s also the option of making some money back by selling it at the end of the semester.

Do you even really need the textbook?

Sometimes, the answer is truly no. Many professors put a textbook on the syllabus that they will never even refer to once. Some of those professors will out right tell you in the first class not to buy it or that it’s optional, so unless the professor has indicated that you will need the textbook on the first day of class, it’s safer just to wait and make sure there’s even a point in buying it.

Buy an older edition.

This isn’t always the best choice. Again, as professors become more sympathetic to textbook costs, they may tell you that an older edition is perfectly fine. You may want to check with your professor first, but an older edition is going to be cheaper and probably pretty similar to the new one. This does get difficult when the professor refers to specific page numbers because those are likely to be a little off.

Can you share with a friend?


There’s nothing wrong with going halfsies on an expensive textbook to share with your friend in the same course.

Is there a free PDF version online?

Sometimes it’s posted legally, and sometimes it’s not, so be careful when doing this. But if you can find a free PDF version, that’s pretty much an ideal situation. If you don’t like reading on your device, then go to the computer lab and print it out. Be respectful if you’re printing the whole book at once, and maybe reserve that for the middle of the night when no one else needs to print.

Check your school’s library.


Sometimes your library will have a copy of the textbook that you can check out whenever you’re cramming for a test. Your professor may have even set aside a few copies of the book specifically for your class. The only problem with this is that you can’t guarantee that the book will always be there when you need it.

Go to your professor.

There’s a few things they may be able to do for you. Perhaps they have an extra copy to loan you. This may be when they tell you that you really don’t need to worry about getting the book. They may know somewhere you can get one. Either way, it’s worth a shot.


Don’t spend hundreds on textbooks. It isn’t fair to you or your budget, and there’s really so many options to cut down the cost significantly. Doing a little more extra work to find the right option is all it takes.

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