How to Save a Fortune on Textbooks

Stack of college textbooksThe campus bookstore is a great place to buy certain items, such as a giant foam finger to wave spiritedly at the homecoming game or a sweatshirt emblazoned with your school’s logo. As most seasoned college students know, however, it’s usually just about the last place you want to go to purchase textbooks.

On top of collecting tuition from students, most public and private institutions seek out secondary sources of revenue to help fund operations, maintenance and other costs. College campuses often are designed as mini cities, with food courts, corner shops, hair salons and more, in addition to the primary bookstore. Most of these serve a dual purpose: to provide students with the convenience of on-campus services and to provide supplemental income for the school.

Many students, especially those who live on-site, opt for convenience and spend much of their money on campus at such establishments. Sometimes this is a smart move, like taking advantage of the discount barbershop operated by student stylists or buying in to your school’s meal plan if it is affordable. But if you’re like most college students, you’re likely a bit more concerned with your own financial well-being than that of the school — as you should be.

After tuition and room and board, textbooks are likely the most expensive item on your school shopping list. As books are required by most professors, there’s really no way to avoid buying them. However, there are plenty of ways to save a good chunk of change. Ebates is a portal to an array of awesome offers, such as discounts at and Cash Back from hundreds of retailers, including booksellers like Amazon. Ebates also offers some great deals at certain university bookstores, such as Auburn University and Texas State University, where you might find specialty texts unavailable elsewhere.

Here are a few tips to help you save a fortune on textbooks.

A woman with glasses working in a bookstore1. Purchase an Older Version

Many professors are quite specific about the text they require for their class, and they will indicate an issue number for those texts that have been revised multiple times. In some cases, this is important; you wouldn’t want future surgeons relying upon medieval medical literature as their primary source of knowledge. Many books, however, contain very little variation between printing editions. Sometimes books are reprinted to fix typos printed in the first issue, or to add a longer preface or addendum.

Professors often ask that each student purchase the same version of the text to ensure everyone is on the same page — literally. But, particularly if your class involves more independent rather than in-class reading, your professor may be willing to let you purchase an older version of the text, assuming there is no major variation between editions. Most professors are quite familiar with these texts — having studied them thoroughly before requiring them of students — so they will be able to advise you whether this will be an issue. Older versions of textbooks are generally quite a bit cheaper, and are also easier to locate in used book stores.

2. Shop Online

Amazon and eBay have become hubs for back-to-school shopping, particularly because of their extensive selections of discounted books. Be sure to look at the multiple buying options each of these sites lists, as other used book stores and independent sellers often list their copies of the book on such websites as well to reach more potential buyers.

Many new and used online book retailers offer back-to-school discounts as well. Some sites like even offer the opportunity to do good while scoring a deep discount. This particular retailer uses funds raised to promote world literacy, donating books to children in need. is a great source for those hard-to-find, rare texts, as well as many others.

3. Look for Used Books

All of the aforementioned online retailers offer a hearty selection of used books, some of which even come with free shipping. You can also check out your local Craigslist listings for some good deals on used materials. To support local business and get a great deal, check out your local second-hand book store. The other benefit to going this route is you may be able to take in some of your own used books for in-store credit, affording you even more savings.

Many university hallways are lined with boards of student announcements. These aren’t just excellent places to find and sell tutoring services or seek a roommate. They’re also often filled with notes from students looking to sell used books to make a few dollars to put toward the next semester’s texts. You may also be able to find such offerings by searching Facebook for groups associated with your university. “Buy, sell, trade” groups have become quite popular for communities, and are also a good source for college students looking to save.

Reading eBook on a small tablet

4. Get an Electronic Version

In the modern era, it seems just about everything has an e-alternative, and books are no exception. Thousands of books are available on Kindle and Nook, as well as many other e-readers. These can easily be downloaded to a smartphone, tablet or laptop, so you can read on the go without the hassle of toting around a bag full of heavy books. The other upside to this option is it can save you a whole lot of cash. Amazon and Barnes & Noble are good places to check for e-books.

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