7 College Textbook Hacks


There’s nothing more fun than going to your first semester of college, bright-eyed and naïve, ready to start your education.

And getting slapped with a huge bill at the school book store.

I had very little support when transitioning from high school to college and had no idea how much textbooks would cost me going in. The sticker shock was enough for me to figure out how to save money on my textbooks. Here are the ways I figured out how to save money and not go further into debt.

No matter which option you go with, always price check it all. Always look. There is no rhyme or reason to which option will be the cheapest, so always look at all your options to find the best one.

  1. Renting – Now most people know that you can rent textbooks online from various websites and even some school stores do. Rentals don’t cost as much as purchasing the book outright, but unless it’s a rare book, it will not likely be the cheapest option. CD’s and online content codes may not be available.
  2. Secondhand Websites – Used copies can be in great condition from places like eBay, Amazon third party sellers, Half.com (run by eBay) and Thrift Books. I got really lucky with some used copies in college; one had page numbers next to all the questions so I always knew where to find the answers! Again, CDs and online content codes may not be available with this option.
  3. Facebook Groups – Find out if your major or potential career has a Facebook group where you can buy and sell items. My major had a club page where students could sell their books to one another, with no shipping costs!
  4. Buy One Edition Back – General Education courses have textbooks that always appear to have a new edition out every year or two, jacking up the price. Most of the time these editions update minor statistics and shift some information to put some money in the author’s bank account. While I can’t fault them, it makes it frustrating for the rest of us. If you find you have a book with tons of back editions, buying one edition back will give you the same general textbook. Make friends with someone in the class with the current edition to see if you can photocopy whatever information you need. I did this with a few different courses, it worked well.
  5. Online Editions – Online editions of books will cost less, but restricts you to using them on a computer or tablet. Personally, I don’t focus as well reading on a digital screen as I do on paper, so I resorted to this option rarely. But if you function well using your iPad or computer as a textbook, it’s a great option.
  6. Library – Sometimes you will get lucky and find the textbook at a local library or at your college’s library for use. Downsides are the book may get checked out and you don’t get to see it, or the library will require it stay in the building for student use.
  7. Don’t Buy It. Deep breaths, it’s ok. Sometimes your teacher assigns a book and then never actually assigns any work from it.

A bonus option here to save money is to allocate funds for your textbooks and then once that semester is over, you can turn around and sell the book. I am a huge fan of selling on Amazon. They take a small commission but give you a 3.99 shipping allowance which can leave you with the majority of your money back. Only once has the option to trade the book in for Amazon credit been more than what I could sell it for. Even if you sell the book for $5.00, you get the $3.99 shipping cost for a grand total of $8.99. Amazon will take a 8-15% commission giving you $5.90. Shipping by USPS Media Mail costs between $3-$5. You won’t make much selling a book for $5, but those $200 textbooks can give you money back into your pocket.


No matter which option you choose, always wait until after you get your course syllabus before you buy the book. You will not likely need the book on the first day of class. The syllabus will be able to show you how much you’ll use the book or at all. Depending on the subject you’ll know if you can buy an older edition or digital copy.


Textbook cost panic aside, remember it’s just a part of the experience. Best of luck with your semesters!