Textbooks are some of the most expensive items that you will buy while in college, and they’ll likely only be useful for one semester. Look for ways to get them cheaper.

A Textbook Strategy to Reduce Cover Price Shock

A Textbook Strategy to Reduce Cover Price Shock

CEE Standard: Saving

When your students get to college they may be shocked to find out how expensive textbooks or online material is. Take the time to teach them strategies on how to save now so they can be mentally and financially prepared when they have to buy their first textbooks.

Textbooks in college are expensive, but your students don't have to spend an arm and a leg each year with these tips. Teach your highschool students the best hacks for finding cheap college books.

“That’ll be $749.50,” the cashier said as she shoved the remainder of my books into plastic bags. It was the fall semester of my sophomore year, and I was securing the laundry list of textbooks that I needed to successfully complete the semester.

Luckily, I was on a scholarship and I didn’t have to worry about the funds coming out of my pocket per se (although they did take a chunk out of my financial aid refund). Several of my classmates weren’t as fortunate, and they spent the duration of their collegiate career complaining about textbook prices at the start of each semester.

Over time, I figured out how to minimize costs. That was more than 10 years ago, and I’ve discovered so many more cost-saving options available nowadays that weren’t around when I was a student. So, whether you’ll be buying textbooks for the first time this semester or for the umpteenth time as a seasoned college student, keep these cost-cutting tips in mind:

Shop Around

Never settle for the price you find at the campus bookstore. Explore other options, like the local discount book retailer or Amazon, to find the lowest prices. Gray’s Bookstore was the preferred off-campus retailer of students at my school, and they always had better deals. 

Plus, students were allowed to write post-dated checks to secure the textbooks they needed until financial aid refunds hit their bank account.

Buy Used (On-Campus or at Another Bookstore)

Used textbooks sometimes look a bit worn from the outside, but it’s the inside that counts. Simply put, your primary concern should be whether or not all the pages are intact, and any highlighting or note-taking is not too distracting for you. 

Buying used will save you a wad of cash, but don’t procrastinate, or you may miss out on the bargains — especially since the number of used books available depends on how many were turned in during the prior semesters. Just make sure you’ve purchased the correct edition of the textbook in question so you’re using the right material throughout the semester.


We didn’t have this luxury when I was a student, but I’ve done a bit of research on textbook rentals, and it’s a great way to cut costs. 

What’s even better is that you may not have to go online to reserve a rental (shipping costs are usually covered). Your campus bookstore may offer this option. 

Additionally, third party companies like Chegg, Amazon, Campus Book Rentals, and other options can also let you borrow textbooks for the duration of your course, and easily return them by mail once the semester is over. 

Scour the Web

A little online legwork may pay off if you’re able to find a PDF version of the textbook, free of charge. But you also want to use good judgment here. If the book is available on a sketchy site, move away or you may infect your computer.  

Also, unless the author has given permission, using their work without purchasing a new or used copy is a copyright and intellectual property infringement. Will you get caught? Probably not, but with low-cost options available, why take the risk?

Purchase the Digital Version

E-books are much cheaper than hard copies because there are no print costs. In turn, these cost savings can be passed on to you, the consumer. They are also much easier to navigate and can be accessed at the tap of a button.

Borrow From the Library

If you beat the crowd, it may be possible to retrieve a copy of the textbooks you’ll need from the campus library. Some schools will let you keep the book for the semester. However, this isn’t usually the case, so this is simply a temporary solution until you can afford to rent or purchase the book.

Check the Latest Edition

A new edition of a book doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a total rewrite. In fact, there were several instances where the professor listed an “updated” edition on the syllabus that just added a few more sentences. While you probably won’t have enough time to comb through every page, you could reach out to the professor and see if the older edition will suffice.

A Final Thought

Before you commence your search for the cheapest textbooks on the market, contact your professor to retrieve a copy of the syllabus. That way, you’ll know which books you’ll actually need and which ones are optional, possibly saving yourself hundreds of dollars.

Check List

  • Find other bookstores near the college you want to attend where you may find better deals on books.
  • What are some websites where you can buy used books?
  • What are other ways you can save on textbooks?
  • What can you do now to prepare for the high cost of textbooks?
  • Do you know someone at school that might sell you their books at a better price than most stores?