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How to Save on College Textbooks

How much do college books cost, and how can you reduce this expense? Learn money-saving tips and tricks.

August 16, 2022

Tuition is the big-ticket item when it comes to higher education. But secondary expenses like textbooks can also add up very quickly, especially if you don’t try to reduce these costs. 

How much do college books cost — and how can you save money on these required purchases? This guide will go over some of the most useful strategies for students. 

How much do college books cost?

The cost of college textbooks will vary depending on the classes you take and the school you attend. However, nationwide averages can shed some light on how much college books cost. 

The average college textbook costs $105.37. The number of books you’ll need in a given academic year depends on your school and degree. 

A full-time undergraduate student at a 4-year public university spends around $1,226 annually on books and supplies. The bulk of this cost comes from textbooks. 

How can I save on college textbooks?

Based on the average cost of textbooks, it’s easy to see the expense becoming a high cost for a student’s education. Fortunately, students can use the tips below to reduce textbook costs. 

Buying used textbooks online

Several online textbook companies sell both new and used textbooks. Used books are often a particularly good deal — just ensure you get the textbook's correct edition. Buying an older version may not work, as the material or homework prompts may have changed. 

Some top options for buying used textbooks online include: 

Buying used textbooks on campus

Just like you can buy used furniture to deck out your dorm on a budget, you can buy used books to save money on required textbooks. Campus bookstores often sell used books at a discount and will almost always be the correct edition for the relevant class at that school. 

Whenever shopping for textbooks, it’s wise to compare prices. You can use your phone in the bookstore to browse prices online using the 13-digit ISBN code found on most books.

Sharing the book with a classmate

Sometimes, you can buy one book to share with one or more classmates. This isn’t always appropriate if you will need the book extensively outside of class, but it’s worth considering. 

Renting textbooks

Another option is to rent instead of buy. Some college bookstores offer this option, and online vendors like Chegg also rent out textbooks. 

The benefit of this approach is that it can save you money. However, you won’t be able to highlight or mark pages, and you won’t keep the book after completing the class. 

Finding an eBook version

Some books are available as digital eBooks, which are almost always cheaper than hard copies. Be sure to read your class syllabus to confirm that eBook versions are available and acceptable for the class. 

One downside is if you have an open book policy for tests, you likely won’t be able to use a digital device to read the eBook. Check with your professor about class policies if you are considering buying an eBook. 

Checking the library

You may be able to find certain textbooks at college libraries or even public libraries in your community. You will need to look early, as fellow frugal students will likely check them out soon. 

The downside here is that you’ll have to stay on top of due dates — which means you may need to keep checking it out repeatedly, or you may only be able to use the book for a portion of the class. 

Price comparing

Wherever you buy, it’s always wise to shop around to compare prices. You can check at your campus bookstore, online at Chegg or CampusBooks, or local bookstores. 

You can use the Amazon app to scan the barcode of a textbook at your college bookstore, which will pull up that book on Amazon, where you can see the pricing for used and new copies. 

Applying for a scholarship

Finding scholarships and grants can help you cover the cost of college. Scholarships may be sent directly to your school to cover tuition or may be sent to you directly as a check. Either way, these funds can help offset the cost of buying books. 

Filing the FAFSA is the first step in seeking out scholarships and grants. You can apply for external scholarships from an online search tool like Some smaller scholarships may be available specifically for textbook costs, while others are general-purpose scholarships. 

Read the class syllabus closely

It’s important to take close note of the books mentioned in the class syllabus. This is to ensure you get the book's right edition and to double-check that the book is required. For some classes, books are optional.

In some cases, professors may choose to use older books that are public domain. If this is the case, you may be able to find eBook versions of the books online for free at Project Gutenberg.

If the syllabus doesn’t offer enough detail, consider contacting the professor directly about the required reading and materials. They may be able to provide copies of textbooks or shed light on finding affordable copies of books.  

Final thoughts

Ultimately, saving money on school textbooks is mostly about shopping for the best deal. Strategies include buying used, buying eBook digital versions, renting and checking the library for free copies. 

Finally, it’s important for students to avoid going into credit card debt while in school. Most students will graduate with student loan debt — the last thing you want is costly credit card debt. Price comparing and saving on textbook expenses could translate to less debt down the line.

If you end up racking up credit card debt, check out Tally. Tally helps qualifying applicants consolidate credit card balances into a lower-interest line of credit. Learn how Tally works.

†To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. Based on your credit history, the APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% - 29.99% per year. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.