Cheap Textbooks And Other Discounts For College Students

That first trip to the college bookstore for textbooks is a transformative, and possibly scarring, event–for many people, it may be the first time you really understand the phrase “sticker shock.” But today’s students at least have some alternatives, the most popular of which (based on reader comments, articles, and personal recommendations) is Our cousin, a junior this year, writes, “One book I’m buying this semester is 70 on Amazon, but like 25 or 35 on Abe.”

CNN Money also suggests and They don’t mention CraigsList — does anyone have any personal experience sourcing books from there?

For savings at other stores, CNN Money recommends trying out, a discount card that costs $20 a year and offers slight discounts at a number of stores and transportation companies. However, this student forum offers mixed feedback on the card, saying it’s really only useful if you have a specific set of spending needs. (In other words, it probably won’t help if you’re already a frugal shopper.)

For students living off campus, check apartment complexes for student discounts; be sure to check for other moving-in specials too. And a final word of common-sense advice from the junior in college: “Don’t waste money you don’t have on stuff like cable TV—do you really have time to watch it anyway?”


Top Tips: Cutting the Cost of College Extras [CNN Money]

(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. yg17 says:

    And for selling, check your school bookstore first. You may get the most from them. I once bought a book for 5 bucks on Amazon, and the bookstore bought it back for 50.

  2. ptkdude says:

    I would always check the ISBN at Most of the time, I could find the book there for half as much as buying it in the US. Even with international shipping it ended up being much cheaper.

  3. morganlh85 says:

    If you go to a local college and need a book for a larger required class, it is often pretty easy to find a used book on Craigslist.

  4. newyorkjerry says:

    My experience with Abe Books a couple of years ago was not a positive one. After NOT receiving a book I ordered from them through, I contacted Abe Books to find out what the problem was. They did not respond to that or follow-up emails. eventually refunded my money.

    While most of the comments on them were positive, there was a pattern with the negative comments, many, many of them (at that time) referring to the company not responding to problems.

    I’ve had many other opportunities to buy from Abe Books but refuse to and will not deal with them in the future.

  5. jywhitney says:

    When I was in college, I often got books from the local or school library. A lot of college libraries are networked, so even if my own library didn’t have it, they’d request it for me. This worked for over 75% of the books I used.

  6. DePaulBlueDemon says:

    Or you can be REALLY frugal and rent the books from local libraries. I’m a poli-sci/history major and I can find 95% of my books at local libraries. If you are a member of one, typically you can have reciprical borrowing privilages at many other local libraries.

  7. lainster19 says:

    I’ve been using a website called for the past year and have been very happy with them. They are somewhat of a search engine that will retrieve the prices of the book you need from multiple websites (abe, amazon, half, cheaptextbooks, etc.), so you can find the best price as well as the condition of the book. They also have a sell option that gives you lists of the companies buying your book and where you’ll get the most money for it.

  8. lostsynapse says:

    Do students really find good discounts when it comes to apartment shopping? The complexes in my college town supposedly are lucky to have 80% occupancy but they still act like there is bidding war for every last room. I had to sign a short term lease for the fall and had to do it at a “luxury” complex. 3 bedroom, 3 bath, 3 suckers EACH paying $380 to $495 a month plus gas and electric. It turn you get free water, free cable, free internet, and a community tanning bed. This is in a smallish town in a rural area.

    I’m really looking forward to paying off that part of my student loans.

  9. InsaneNewman says:

    Always make sure to check out what options your school has locally. I go to the Uuniversity of Illinois, and our student senate sponsors, which is kind of like a Craig’s List for textbooks only. What’s more, they tie it into the actual bookstore book listings, so any book that is the same ISBN as an instructors’ ordered text is listed as “IBX Certified”. It works well because its’ all person-to-person exchanging, so buyer and seller always meet in person.

  10. meteu336 says:

    I always do a search on to find my books. It searches through everything like eBay, Amazon, Half, Abe and the smaller ones too.

    For all the returning students that have bookstores that don’t release ISBNs (have to go to the store to find them), just email your TA or professor. I can usually get all my books by the end of August without ever waiting in the bookstore lines.

    Make sure to ask your friends to borrow their old books too. By far the cheapest route.

  11. kingfish900 says:

    Keep in mind that discount books are often the international version and may not be exactly like the one used by the rest of the class. This is usually not a problem unless the instructor assigns a lot of homework problems.

  12. Onouris says:

    And then there’s people like 90% of my course, who didn’t buy a single book for our entire life at University.

    That’s how it’s really done!

  13. tozmervo says:

    I second that comment. After first year, all of my books were found through that site. My sister is starting college this month and found most of her books there for over 70% less than the sticker price (ie, the college bookstore).

    The textbook industry is such a scam.

  14. tamushrek says:

    I am a sophomore at Texas A&M and I always try to buy my books from Amazon but through their marketplace usually used. If you by chance get a good deal you can actually come up ahead as I did when i purchased my chem book from amazon for $30 then sold it for $85. Bookstores are always trying to take money from the students because, well they can!

  15. kalemaat says:

    There’s also the Marketplace feature on Facebook. I remember seeing quite a few textbook listings on it back in the spring, but it should be interesting to see if it’ll really take off in about a month or so, once more students will need to buy textbooks. It seems like it should be a good option — kind of like Craigslist, but with the additional advantage of being able to see exactly which friends you may have in common with the seller of the item.

  16. loreshdw says:

    I have had nothing but great experiences with Remember, because it is a network of independent sellers, one lousy result does not mean that the entire network is bad.

    A word of warning for Amazon, ebay, craigslist, or any other site that involves an individual seller who may be selling just a few books for the first time. That individual may be an idiot who can’t tell which edition a book is (my classmate was sent a 3rd rather than a 5th ed.) or it may be an outright scam. Anyone can show a photo clip of a later edition with their ad and then mail you something else.

  17. EtherealStrife says:

    Take the time to hit the local library bookstores. I once found a $90 engineering textbook for 50 cents (used), and I’ve heard similar stories from many of my friends.

  18. msquared says:

    @InsaneNewman: I’ve found student-run book exchanges are the best options. Not only are they great deals, but the transactions are much easier and can often happen in-person.

  19. alohanico says:

    I’ve always just bought my books second-hand off of students themselves. Check your student newspaper or the student’s union building in the first few weeks of school.

    It’s usually pretty easy to get a good deal at least that way I know someone deserving is getting my hard-earned dollars…

  20. NKMike says:

    I use it searches a bunch of different sites including abebooks, half and many others. You can put in the ISBNs for all of your books then tell it to go look and within a few seconds it presents its findings in a very nice manner. You can see the best price if you want to buy all from one store, best price from different stores, best prices from 1st or 3rd party sellers. It’s an awesome website and it has saved me hundreds of dollars!

  21. textilesdiva says: is a great resource.

    For GERs, I typically was able to find the book for cheap from another student who wasn’t happy with what the bookstore offered, and didn’t want to deal with the hassle of selling online.

    My favorite way around textbook prices is to take classes with friends: in addition to being able to coordinate absences (I mean, long-standing obligations…), we’d split the cost of the text if it was VERY necessary. I had one marketing class (ugh) where the USED copies were $80+! Three of us went in together, and about half the class shared one access code for the online supplements, from which the professor pulled many test questions verbatim.

    It’s a contest to see who can spend the least on textbooks. Engineering students always lose.

  22. zimzombie says:

    I have utterly given up on buying books. Unless I need the books for homework questions (and sometimes not even then), no books for me! Even then I’ll split it with someone else AND buy used.

    The last two books I bought (in the last two semesters) were ones that had a SINGLE USE keycode for online homework; that is, you have to buy it new. That’s the real scam, especially when you have to buy a set of three books to get the one keycode. 15 digits: $110. Instant, unavoidable monopoly: priceless.

    At least some of my b-school teachers have now realized that by printing their own material they can save their class of 300 students $45,000.

  23. synergy says:

    I’ve tried those sites and actually spent Saturday looking through several of those sites, but I wasn’t getting anything really good. The best deals for the two books I need this semester, as with last Spring, were at eBay and Amazon.

  24. zeus_loves_hera says:

    As for the Student Advantage card, I bought one (with a 4 year subscription at $60 total) when I was a Freshman solely for the 15% discount on Amtrak rail fares. Before I had a car at school, I would go home maybe 3 times a quarter or so. With each roundtrip cost being about $50 (regular price), I saved about $7.50 per trip, and got my whole card membership paid off by the end of the year. The trouble is that you have to buy your tickets online a few days in advance, but usually that’s not too much of a problem.

    So generally, if you’re planning on spending more than about $150 in Amtrak or Greyhound, the card is worth it. I know it saved me a lot of money during the course of my studies.

  25. FLConsumer says:

    Here’s a not-so-obvious, but very useful (at least in my college career) tip:

    You might not actually need to buy the books at all. I’ve had a number of classes (the majority, actually) where the “required textbooks” were never used, nor were useful for the course itself. I usually waited until after the first week to see if the books were indeed needed for the class.

    Regarding the cable TV comment — who doesn’t have free time in college? If you’re running out of time and aren’t working full-time + college, look for a more efficient way to study. Sure, there’s tons of busy-work in colleges today, but learning a few shortcuts and better study methods will save you far more time.

  26. MrBartokomous says:

    For the Canadian side of the equation, I’ve had nothing but good experiences with, although they seem to be less popular than they used to be. Facebook Marketplace is going to be the place to go in about 2 weeks.

  27. Major-General says:

    Ahh, brings up memories of going to a college where you couldn’t buy them from outside sources because they had been out of print for 15 years.

  28. TCameron says:

    I had a horrible time with My book has still yet to arrive after a year of waiting and the payment sent. They never offered to fix the prblem after a complaint was sent to them. They lost a customer for life.

  29. politicfool says:

    I’ve used, and before that, with great success before. These are sites that connect you with other students at your own campus. I’ve sold a lot of my old school books that way and made back at least as much as I spent on the books in the first place.

  30. Optimistic Prime says:

    [] is great for software. I highly recommend the OpenOffice and Gimp. Try Ubuntu as it comes with those already. You’re in college, learn a new OS! Those three things right there will save you just about a grand. Beer Money!

  31. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    I used ebay and a couple times and I had a pretty positive experience. The trick is to only buy from users that have a 98%+ positive rating.

  32. LiC says:

    I have seen some of my textbooks for cheaper on, but since it is a gathering of independent sellers I am too paranoid to use it. Will abebooks refund my money if the seller’s scamming me?

    I have used Amazon Marketplace for the last 3 years, and have only been ripped off by one seller once – it really was a deal too good to be true. Amazon refunded the price of the product and s&h within a week of my complaint. That kind of peace of mind is worth it.

    Another resource is, google’s product search.’s products up on there, so does’s and’s.

  33. A lot of teachers put books in the syllabus that you only need a few chapters from. It might seem cheap and all, but for those I just take notes while lounging in the school bookstore. In fact, I saved about $1500 through my undergraduate studies by simply reading in the bookstore. It’s a controlled and distraction-free environment.

    PS-I also worked at my school’s bookstore as a loss prevention associate for 3 years, and this practice is completely legal.

  34. catkiller says:

    The only time I used I ended up with some strange version of a text that only contained the first three chapters. I had to buy the copy at the book store anyways. I have had much better luck luck buying foreign copies on ebay. They have always been the same books, but paperback at a third of the price.

  35. hop says:

    eons ago i attended a community college…..i found that it was not a good idea to buy last semesters books…it seems like each new semester the instructors were using a new text….the price of these books was outta site back then….there was no on line anything to go to, cause there was no on line period….at least now students have a chanch to save a couple of bucks…..

  36. axum says:

    I like for textbooks. The reason they’re better is because they search every combination of all your textbooks, including shipping and promotions, instead of just one at a time. so they find savings that other sites don’t.

    They just redid their website and added support to either include or exclude international editions, which is a big deal.

    Also, they allow you to choose your own ship time, then they calculate the lowest possible total price using the shipping method from all stores which gets the book there on time.

    Pretty neat! []

  37. techwriter says:

    I remember when I was in college I spent over $500 on books for 1 semester. The on-campus bookstore gave me a ‘free’ t-shirt. So everytime I wore that t-shirt it reminded how much I was ripped off. It was not until my senior year I found that using an on-line book price comparison engine could save me a lot of money. The best one I found was SmartBookFinder: [] I wish I knew about this freshmen year!

  38. florence3333 says:

    They mention for cheap textbooks I think this is great it’s where I go for mine!

  39. tator says:

    I’ve gone back to college for a 2nd degree (the first was 30 years ago). Books were outrageous then and now. Because of my aid package, I have to buy through the book store (even though the prices offend me). The store has most of its books shrunk wrapped or boxed to keep them from being read (and will not refund as new if opened). The good news is the books bought new with grants and aid fuel the used book market.

    Regarding not buying books, I have a technical major and know some of the books would be useful in the future as reference. I continue to use a few of my 30+ year old books from the first time around on rare occasion.