Back to College: Beating the Bookstore

After being in school for 2 or 3 years, I finally decided to check online about buying some used books, and I was very surprised to find that I could get used book for about half the cost of the used books at my school, and used books that were about 1/4 the cost of a new book at my school. Obviously this adds up to huge savings when you take a book that’s $50 new and $30 used at the bookstore, and you can find it for $15 or $20 online, or when you find a $100 book for $35 or $40

Here are some tips & strategies that will help you to save money on textbooks (and all books for that matter.)

1. Buy used.

2. Buy an older edition of the book. – Often they put out a new edition of a book, and there are no used copies. You may just have to grit your tooth and shell out the dough for the new book, but you may also consider locating an older edition online. You should check with the professor to find out if it’s okay to get an older edition first. Sometimes it is absolutely necessary to buy the new book, as the newer book may contain important passages that the old book did not. (lit books & math books can’t really be substituted b/c they make changes) But in some cases, (such as with history books & some social studies books) there really is not much change in the content of the book, and the teacher may allow you to use an older version if it is available to you. The very first day I attended classes, my history professor put this way: “We have a new book this semester. If you know someone who has the older edition, feel free to use it instead. The new book offers no new information that you’ll need. Basically every couple of years, they decided to add one or two new photos, rearrange a couple of chapter, jack the price up $10, and then you get screwed.” This sentiment surprised me, as I didn’t expect the professor to feel that way, let alone say it, but I’ve found it to be true nonetheless. So if the teacher allows, find an older edition of the book.

3. Buy at the off campus bookstore. If you go to the college bookstore, and they are out of used books, then go off campus. Off campus bookstores generally have a good selection of new & used books, and they are generally a good bit cheaper. But just as with the college store, used books will be the first to go at the off campus store as well, so you need to shop there early.

4. Buy from fellow students. If you look around campus, you’ll find flyers on bulletin boards, where people are trying to sell their old books. They are selling them b/c either the bookstore met its buy back quota and would not buy their book back, or because they didn’t like the price that the bookstore wanted to pay them for the book. Either way, they want to get rid of that book, and they will be willing to sell to you at a lower price than what the bookstore offers.

5. Facebook. I’ve been told that a lot of students are now advertising the sell of their old books through facebook.

6. School’s Online Messageboard – Same concept. Some school’s now have an online email or message board system that allows students to post up books that they are selling (or books they are looking to buy.)

7. Library – A lot of the textbooks needed for various classes should be available at the school library. You’ll need to go early if have any hopes of checking them out, and there may be a limit on how long you can borrow them for, but it’s definitely something to look into.

8. Book Swap/Trade/Borrow – Talk with friends about the classes that you (and they) are taking or have taken. You may be able to work out a trade, or do some book borrowing. For instance, my husband loaned out a lot of books to friends who took classes that he had already taken. And I had a friend who needed a math book that I had, so I gave him the math book, and he gave me a psych book.

9. Buy Online – This is a sure way to get a good deal of 50-75%, but it does take time to do the research to find all the books you need and make sure you’re getting a good deal, so you have to get started early. Here are a few sites to consider:
Ebay – I bought most of my books on ebay and saved a ton.
Amazon – I haven’t bought as many books here, but I did buy a couple here when they weren’t available on ebay. – I haven’t used this site, but apparently you list books here that you are willing to swap for others. I’m not sure if there’s an option to buy a book without swapping or not, but I did read that you get 2 free books, whenever you list a book for the first time. – buy/sell books on this site
abebooks – buy/sell books

You can find more by simply searching “Buy textbooks” on your internet search engine.


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  2. Renting Textbooks is also becoming a very solid option for students, as it requires less money upfront (See

    As far as buying textbooks online, you might want to check out this independent study on the cheapest places to buy textbooks.

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