10 Tips for Saving Money on College Textbooks

College is expensive with the third largest expenditure being purchasing books. Better Business Bureau® serving Eastern Oklahoma is sharing ten tips for saving on textbooks and supplies.
September 08, 2017

College students can spend upwards of $1,200 on textbooks and supplies. While you might assume that four-year universities rack up the biggest book and supplies bill, two-year public programs tend to be more expensive. According to College Board’s Trends in Higher Education, books and supplies at a four-year school cost $1,250 and $1,390 at a two-year school. Trends show that textbook prices are on the rise. While the expense may still be high, there are ways to save money.

Image of lined up books from above to see the tops of the covers and the white of the pages. Image shot at an angle with books lined up from the bottom left across to the top right


BBB® suggests these ten tips for stretching your budget:

  1. Verify before making a purchase: Fight the urge to go straight to your supplies and textbook portion of your syllabus. Read the entire document through first. You may find a detail like a book is recommended but not necessary to pass the class, or a professor may post photocopies of chapters as needed for the course. Seek clarity by emailing your professor if the syllabus doesn't explain how important each book is. 
  2. Check the library: Lots of universities keep multiple copies of textbooks in their collection. Students can check them out for a few hours at a time, usually long enough to read and do their assignments. If the book can not be found in your school's library, you may be able to check a book out electronically from a different library online.
  3. Rent: Renting your books from an online rental company can help you save big. You will need to be extra careful with these copies and avoid marking in them. A book returned in bad condition may end up costing you more than purchasing it outright. Check the BBB website before you hit purchase, or rent in this caseBBB website. Search the rental companies and find business profiles, BBB ratings, and verified reviews.
  4. Buy Used: Many bookstores will purchase used books at the end of a semester and resell them at a discounted price. Search for used copies on trustworthy websites if your bookstore runs out of used copies. Follow the advice above and run a search for the company on the BBB website. You should also read the return policy thoroughly. You may be able to find copies locally from students selling them person to person on sites like Craigslist, LetGo, or Facebook marketplace. Be sure to verify the condition and the edition of the book, inform the seller you will purchase pending in person confirmation, and meet in a well-lit and busy public place.
  5. Buy an electronic copy: Copies of textbooks that can be downloaded as a pdf file and viewed on a computer, smart phone or tablet are often much cheaper than hard copies. While you may not be able to write notes in the margins, you can still highlight and add comments electronically. It may also be easier on your back and bookshelves to avoid carrying the weight of those heavy textbooks.
  6. Shop Around: The great thing about the Internet is you can price and compare across multiple websites and stores all from the comfort of your dorm room. Practice your note taking skills and keep detailed information so you can make the best decision for your wallet.
  7. Share with a classmate: If you have a friend in the class or are outgoing, you could ask if someone or a group of people wish to share a textbook. The cost of the book can get split between two or more individuals making the expense a little less painful.
  8. Purchase exactly what you need: Sometimes the only thing you need out of a book is an access code found on the inside of the cover. Some companies allow you to purchase the code on its own from their site at a lower cost than an entire textbook.
  9. Only buy once you need it: If you have a long list of supplies and books, you may want to hold off on buying all of it at once. In an email or on the first day of class ask which supplies you will need for the first week or month. You may not end up using all of the supplies on the list or discover you can share with classmates rather than purchasing your own.
  10. Plan ahead: Sign up for coupons and email notifications before the next semester starts. Note which classes you will take the next semester and request the syllabus and syllabus from the professor ahead of time, verifying that the same books and supplies will be used. Purchase books slowly and take advantage of sales and discount codes. You can ask for the book or buy it if you know someone taking the course the semester before. You can also get a better idea of which supplies and textbooks are really needed and how they will be used by asking someone who has already been through the course.


Another way to avoid out of pocket costs is to purchase textbooks with any money received in scholarships or grants as most allow you to use the funds for more than tuition and fees. Be sure to read the terms of your scholarship or grants before heading to the bookstore.