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5 Places to Buy Textbooks Without Breaking the Bank

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by Mara Strom

With the first day of college right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about all those beginning of semester start-up costs. Are you trying to stretch your scholarship dollars? Or make your work-study money go as far as possible?

Over the next few Mondays at the Financial Aid Finder, I’m going to focus on some frugal(ish) ways to save money and reduce your overall expenses.

This week, we’re talking about textbooks. Books are often one of those unplanned — or under-planned — for expenses that can really bust your budget. The cost of books has gone up more than 180 percent in the last decade and it’s not unusual for students to blow $1,000 or more on buying them.

Given that textbooks are unavoidable (assuming you’re not planning on intuiting all that info, that is), why not look for some more affordable ways to purchase them? Here are a few places to look:

Your Campus Bookstore
Believe it or not, there are some bargains to be found at your on-campus bookstore. And with the cost of gas these days, those bargains — in the form of used books — probably seem even sweeter than driving all over town. Here are two important warnings, though, before you buy:

  • DO NOT BUY NEW. Sorry for shouting, but this is important! New textbooks are anywhere from 20% to 80% more expensive than second-hand books. Plus, as you may have already discovered, most second hand textbooks are in pristine condition (as in, the previous owner never even cracked the cover.)
  • Don’t buy anything without comparison shopping first. The biggest book-buying mistake students make is not shopping around. You might get some great deals at your on-campus store. Or you might find that same used book for pennies on the dollar from one of the websites below.


This is a great site to search for bargains on nearly 500,000 college textbook titles, conveniently divided into subjects. The list is also searchable by title, author or key words. Plus you can resell your gently used textbooks at the end of each semester and earn some cash to pay for the next round.


If you’re not up for full-on comparison shopping, this site is for you. Affordabook is paired up with 17 discount retailers and it searches through each of them to find the lowest price on new and used textbooks (and other books, too). Search by ISBN, title or keywords.


Like Affordabook, BigWords does your research for you. The site searches through several other online retailers to pinpoint where the best deals are.


If you like eBay, you’ll love buying your books from Textbookz, an e-Bay based site for student book exchanges. The site is super fast and easy to use, and like BookByte you can buy and sell your books back.

Where do you buy your textbooks? Have you found a great way to save money on books? Please share in the comments section! And, tune in again next week when I look at how food (and drink) figure into your costs of living. And I’ll try to answer the question: Should you buy a meal plan?

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