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Cheap Textbooks 101: 5 Hacks To Save You Cash On College Textbooks

Liam Berry

College is expensive. With tuition, food, housing, and all the other unexpected costs, you can easily run up quite the bill. Plus, even if your parents, scholarships, or far-off loans are covering your college expenses, any of those entities will sometimes leave the cost of textbooks up to you. However, finding cheap textbooks isn’t as easy as it seems. With so many options online, really cheap textbooks can easily elude you.

That means it’s time to get crafty and save where you can. That way, you can have money for fun stuff, like dining hall chicken fingers or F’reals—or like, a salad, I guess.

Here at the WayUp Guide, we’ve gathered the five best moneyhacks guaranteed to secure your college textbooks for the best price.

1. Used College Textbooks Are Cheap Textbooks

Given that being able to write in, highlight, and otherwise abuse your textbooks is a useful thing, buying is your best bet. However, buying new is often extremely pricey. That’s why buying used college textbooks is generally your best move.

But it’s easy to end up paying more than you should even for a used book. That’s why it’s important to use an online price tool like or before going to your bookstore. You should make a note of the lowest online price and then check (or call) your college bookstore as a final comparison. Usually, you won’t find the price of a used textbook from your campus bookstore online, so you need to call or check in person to ensure you’re getting the best deal.

Campus Books Price Comparison For Cheap Textbooks
Most price comparison tools will look like this one from Campus Books.

With a used copy of the textbook, you can beat it up however you like during the semester. Plus, if you find that you’re not using it that much, you can always resell it to recover your investment! This is why buying used textbooks is the best option, if you can afford it. You have the option to mark up your book, but you can also resell online or on campus.

2. Rent Cheap Textbooks

Sometimes, even a used book is outrageously expensive. When the price of a used book is too high, it’s time to rent.

Those two sites above (Campus Books and Book Finder) both offer rentals on used books. Another great site for rentals is Sometimes, renting through Amazon can be a better deal, because you can get a bundled-in Kindle version (or just a normal Kindle version), which is usually much cheaper. You can also read those without having a Kindle, but more on that in the next section.

Rentals can be tricky, though. You have to be VERY careful not to do too much damage to the book. You should also read the reviews for each renter VERY closely. Certain renters will basically always charge you for damages and others are the exact opposite. You’d definitely prefer the latter kind of renter. If you end up paying exorbitant fees for damages or lateness, then you’re not saving any money!

3. Get E-Books

Ah, e-books. Many people love e-books and their complementary e-readers. But most people usually feel pretty negatively about them for textbooks. Textbooks can be big books, with lots of text per page. They also often feature a ton of images, charts, and other edifying graphics. You don’t want to try to fit all that on a Kindle screen. However, if it’s just text, then an e-reader is usually fine.

But there is one important truth about e-books that we haven’t covered: Buying e-books is the easiest way to get cheap textbooks.

Here’s how you can get around the limits of an e-reader. Most e-books are available to use in your browser on your laptop, phone, tablet, or whatever. This is especially true for Kindle versions from Amazon. Kindle has a pretty robust in-browser e-reader that you can use to look at images and text without missing a beat. You still can’t write in it, but c’est la vie, they’re still cheap.

However, sometimes the only e-book versions available are from the publisher. These can range from totally amazing with a billion features to total, unreadable garbage. If the publisher is selling it on their own, potentially wonky platform, check out a review to make sure it’s not unusable. If you can’t find a review, then ask someone you know who might’ve taken the class before.

4. College Textbook Scholarships

This suggestion is a bit of a pipedream for most people, as textbook scholarships are often need-based and extremely limited. Most scholarship funds go to stuff like tuition, room and board, or even research. But there are some scholarships out there willing to help you with the cost of your books.

Check out this helpful list from to see what you might be able to qualify for.

Hey, you never know.

5. Plan Ahead, Don’t Get Caught Needing The Book Overnight

The most important lesson of the college scholarship hunt is to never get caught in a situation where you need the book overnight.

For example, you delay getting the textbook until it’s the night before the exam, therefore leaving you with the sole option of buying from the campus bookstore at a crazy markup. You could also burn up all your social capital with your new class friend, but judging from this behavior, you’re probably going to need that for later.

All jokes aside, this is the biggest mistake you can make. Buy or rent your books online as soon as you get the list. That way you’ll have access to the widest possible range of price options and you’ll have time to order the $20 copy of the $250 textbook from Germany that takes three weeks to ship.

Letting valuable time slip away means having to buy whatever the campus bookstore has on stock—which is usually pretty expensive.

Give yourself time to make the right decision for your budget! Finding cheap textbooks isn’t always easy, but it’s almost always worth it. Paying full price is usually a waste.

With these five hacks, you should be ready to save a ton on textbooks this semester. Don’t spend it all on milkshakes! Or do! It’s your money.

For more college hacks, career advice, and more, be sure to check out the WayUp Guide!