If you are just about to start college, then the desperation to save money on textbooks may not make a lot of sense to you yet.

So, picture this… you’ve received your financial aid package for college and accepted, you’ve registered for classes, you’ve moved into your new dorm, and you walk into your first class, ready to begin the adventure… and you google your “required reading materials” and find a price tag of about $100 PER BOOK. Takes the wind right out of your sails, huh?

               Unfortunately, this scenario is not a “hypothetical,” but more of a guarantee—the kind of promise you wish would be broken. And it isn’t as if we just pay for just one textbook each year. Almost every class has at least one textbook, some have multiple. So, if we take a full course load, we’re looking at about 5 or more textbooks EACH SEMESTER. (If we’re doing the math, that’s a gut-wrenching sum of about $1000 a year… on books)

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Textbooks are crazy expensive (especially for books that we don’t really want and only use for a maximum of 5 months). So, what are we to do? Do we shell out a cool $1000 a year on books we didn’t want, with money we don’t have? An option, but not ideal. So instead, let’s look at how to save money on textbooks in college.

How to Save Money on Textbooks

               Fear not, against the evil of inflated textbook prices, there are heroes for the students. There are options available to find the elusive “affordable college textbook.” A common way to save money on textbooks is to rent the textbook instead of purchasing it. This is almost always cheaper than buying, but even some rentals can still leave you paying too much.

               Fortunately, there are better options still. Here are some of the best ways to save money on college textbooks:


               Chegg is a student-centered business whose goal is to make sure that students can get the most out of their education for the least amount of money. Chegg offers all sorts of student services, such as tutoring, citation generator, study help, and, you guessed it, cheap textbooks.

               One of Chegg’s selling points is that they can save students up to 90% of what they would have paid elsewhere for their textbooks. Chegg has options for etextbooks, textbook rentals, and used and new textbook purchases. They allow you to browse through all their price options for each book and compare, so that you can decide what is best for you.

               Etextbooks and rentals are typically the cheapest options, however, if you are the sort of learner that needs to have a physical copy in front of them to make notations on or you just don’t like reading from a screen, Chegg will almost definitely have the most affordable textbook options for hardcovers/physical copies—a wallet-saver for sure.


               OpenStax, similar to Chegg, is a student-focused initiative by Rice University to make education accessible to everyone. What does this mean for you? It means free textbooks. OpenStax offers students free textbooks.

               Now, as with all things that seem too good to be true, there is a catch. These textbooks are published and peer reviewed by OpenStax, so they may not be the textbook that your professor requires you to have. They also may not have the exact information that the textbook that your professor requires has. Additionally, this is a growing project, meaning that they may not yet have a textbook for the subject that you are looking for.

               That said, it does not hurt you to have a free textbook that will hit the highlights of whatever subject you are studying. Who knows, you may be able to substitute the required reading with an OpenStax textbook, or at least supplement the information.

International Edition Textbooks

               Fun fact, textbooks are published in several ways. There are publishers here in the US, who produce the editions that are sold nationally, and there are international publishers, who produce that same textbook, in a cheaper way, and sell it internationally. These textbooks are called international edition textbooks.

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               Now, there are reasons that international publishers produce those textbooks in a cheaper way, in large part having to do with the textbook needing to be affordable to countries with different education systems. What this looks like in comparison to the US editions is lower quality paper, black and white print (including images and graphics), and most likely no supplemental material (such as CDs, DVDs, or manuals).

               Because they are cheaper to produce, international edition textbooks are usually much cheaper than the same textbook from a US publisher. International edition textbooks will have all the same information that the US editions have, but the page numbers, though unlikely, may be slightly different. The ISBN may also be different, so you’ll need to do a little extra searching to make sure that the international edition you are looking at is the same as the required textbook for your class.

               These may also be referred to as “global editions” and they will most likely have a different cover. Verify that the title and authors are the same before you buy it. To find international edition textbooks you can just google “international edition” after the title. Or you can also try AbeBooks, Alibris, or BookScouter to see what deals they can offer for international edition textbooks.

Price Comparison

               A great way to save money on textbooks is to find the cheapest price… duh. But, it can be difficult to do all the searching yourself, and then deal with the lingering doubt before you purchase—did you actually find the cheapest price, or did you miss something? Those with any degree of anxiety know what I mean.

               That’s where price comparison websites come in handy. They allow you to search for the textbook that you need, and they come up with a list of vendors who will rent or sell the textbook. The best ones will list the prices for each vendor and option so that you can compare on the spot.

               I recommend trying BigWords or Slugbooks, both websites list vendors and prices for each vendor. They also compare from different sources, so I would recommend using both, and comparing from all the vendors each site offers a price for.

Campus Library

               This one feels like a no-brainer but is often left out of consideration when the time to acquire textbooks arrives. Most campus libraries will have the textbooks that are required for each class. Often a professor will put the textbook on reserve, which means that students are allowed to “check-out” the book, but only for 1-3 hours (usually) and it can’t leave the library.

               Now, there are obvious drawbacks to this method. The first is that there is a possibility that you will have to wait in line to use the book, which could mean hours. That can make it difficult to do your homework on a schedule that works for you. Another is that you can’t leave the library with the book, so for any homework that requires the textbook, you’ll have to be in the library.

               You also can’t mark up the book, and you’ll be fined for any damage that you cause (that’s true of rentals, too). However, doing this means paying NO ADDITIONAL money for your textbooks. Basically, they are free. And if you can’t get all the homework/reading finished in the time period that you have the book “checked-out,” take pictures of the required pages and finish on your own time.

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               If, on the off chance your library doesn’t have the textbook, many college libraries have partnerships with other libraries, and they can request a copy to borrow from a different library. You’ll have to talk to the librarian at your school about that, though. Using the library is truly such an underrated way to save money on textbooks.

Other Options

               Many colleges have a “Facebook page” for selling used textbooks. It is super useful, if you can get on the page, because often they sell them for dirt-cheap and it’s as easy as meeting up on campus to do the exchange (money for book). All you need to do is ask around from some of the upperclassmen (sophomores included in this case) and ask to be invited to the page.

               Another option, though not my favorite, is to try to split a book with a classmate. This means you and a classmate agree to each pay half for the textbook and come up with a schedule or system for using it so that you both get the most out of it. It can be difficult, though, to depend on someone else for access to “your” textbook, so keep that in mind.

               Ebooks are also a great option. While they most likely won’t be as cost-effective as the options listed above, ebooks are generally still cheaper than purchasing new or used textbooks off of Amazon or from the bookstore.

Save Money on Textbooks

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               The thing is, we already spend a ton of money on college. From tuition and fees to groceries and social life, college is expensive. It seems silly to have to tack onto that thousands of dollars for books that we will use for such a short period of time. Whether it’s Chegg, OpenStax, price comparison, or fighting in line at the library, make it a priority each semester to find some way to cut down on the price tag.

As always, for information on Christian colleges and universities, or to be entered into one of our scholarship drawings, visit us at The Christian Connector Website.