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My 7 best tips for saving on college textbooks (plus win a $100 gift card!)

This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to Michelle, winner of the gift card!

Thank you Barnes & Noble for sponsoring this post. While this was a sponsored opportunity from Barnes & Noble, all content and opinions expressed here are my own.

tips for saving on college textbooks

Before the fall semester, I mentioned a way that Joshua and I saved some money on one of his textbooks, and a reader asked if I’d do a whole post about ways to save on college textbooks.

Which is kind of funny, because Barnes & Noble had asked if I’d write a post about that as well.

It was pretty serendipitous. 😉

While I’m slightly new to the college textbook world, I’ve been hard at work saving money on homeschooling textbooks for years and the techniques I used have translated very nicely into the college world.

So, if you’re a homeschooling parent of small kids, read on! I think a lot of these tips will be helpful for you too.

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1. Think outside the college bookstore.

Sometimes, the college bookstore is a necessity (like when classes call for college-specific textbooks), but a lot of the books they sell are available online.

It costs no money and very little time to do some Googling with the ISBN to see if you can obtain the books more cheaply.   The college bookstore is always there as a backup if you come up dry, so why not at least try looking somewhere else?

For instance, with the help of Barnes & Noble, you can find books at low prices, so you can get the most bang for your buck. Several of their textbooks are listed up to 30% off the sticker price, plus they offer free shipping on all new textbook orders over $25.

2. Look for used books.

Lots of people want to offload their books at the end of a semester, so used college textbooks are in good supply both at the bookstore and online.   Who cares if the book has a few wrinkles?   If you buy a new ones, it’s just going to end up wrinkled at the end of the semester anyway!

used college textbooks

While there are many places to look for used textbooks, Barnes & Noble only sells the highest-quality used books (so you never have to worry about missing pages or books in unusable condition) at up to 90% off the sticker price. Check out how to purchase used textbooks through Barnes & Noble by clicking here.

One caveat: when the book comes with an online activation code, used is not always a good idea.   However, you can sometimes buy an activation code separately, and if you get the book cheaply enough, this can still end up being cheaper than a new book/code package.

3. Rent books.

Again, if you need an online activation code, you’ll want to be careful, but otherwise, renting is a super way to obtain a book cheaply.

And you don’t even need to mess with selling it at the end of the semester…just mail it back and you’re done!

Barnes & Noble offers this option, and even gives you a free printable shipping label to make returns as easy as possible. There are thousands of textbooks available to rent through the Barnes & Noble Textbook Rental Program, with flexible periods from 60 to 130 days. They even give you the option to extend the rental or purchase the book, in case you need to get some extra study sessions in.

Joshua’s English class required a book that was over $100 at the bookstore and online, but we were able to rent it online for a mere $26.   So perfect!

4. Check ISBNs.

Whenever I shop for used textbooks online, I always use an ISBN to search.   This eliminates confusion about which edition you’re really buying and whether it matches with what the professor requires.

A great deal on the wrong book is, um, not a great deal.

save on textbooks at Barnes and Noble

5. Ask the professor questions.

If there’s an earlier edition that’s way cheaper, ask if that edition will work just as well.

And if you’re wondering whether the course will be using the online portion (where you need an activation code), ask!   If the professor doesn’t require it, you can buy a used no-code copy and save yourself some money.

6. Ask around.

Putting the word out is a super useful frugal technique in lots of arenas and we’ve found it helpful in the college textbook world.

If your friends have taken a class that you’re planning to take, see if they’ll sell you their books.   Even if they haven’t taken the class, maybe they have a non-mutual friend that has, and they can put you in touch.

7. Sell those books!

If you took a survey of college graduates 10 years post-college and asked how many have used the textbooks they kept, I think you’d get very few yeses.

If you’re reasonably sure you’ll refer to the book again, AND if it’s not a book that will quickly go out of date, then maybe it’s wise to keep it.   Otherwise, sell it!

More money and less clutter is a win.

The fastest, easiest way is to bring books to your college bookstore, but this doesn’t always net you the largest return.

Selling them individually will get you more money, but it’s more work, and you have to wait until they sell to get paid.


An in-between option is to sell them back as a group online.   Through Barnes & Noble’s site, you can input your textbooks’ ISBN numbers to find out which ones they want and how much they’ll pay you.   You can send all the accepted books in together, and you don’t have to wait to get paid. They also provide prepaid shipping labels to make the process easier.

Whatever you do, don’t let your books sit and collect dust!   Get some money out of them that you can funnel into next semester’s book purchases.

Win a $100 gift card!

One last thing…Barnes and Noble is giving a $100 gift card away to one of you.

(Ohhhh, yeah!)

To enter, leave a comment sharing your best tip for saving on textbooks.

(And if you don’t have a tip, it is totally fine to just say you want the gift card. 😉

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.   Void where prohibited. Odds of winning depend upon the number of entrants.   Winner will be chosen at random and contacted thru the email address left in the comment. One entry per person.   Giveaway open to residents of the United States.


Liz M.

Thursday 26th of January 2017

E-books! They are usually cheaper than the physical copies.

Often, you can get an even better deal by "renting" digital versions of text books for the semester, rather than paying full-price for a download (you are paying for access to the book for a few months, rather than the ability to keep it on your computer forever).

I loved this option when I was in school because it meant I could just carry my lap-top to campus instead of my lap-top PLUS a bunch of heavy books. And I could highlight and make notes directly on the text very easily. E-books allow one to search the text easily, too, which is helpful when you're studying.

I'd love to be entered in the giveaway :).


Thursday 26th of January 2017

I would love to win the gift card! I have two homeschooled, high school, college class taking, girls and would love the help! Thanks for all the great tips!!

Jenna W.

Thursday 26th of January 2017

I'm paying for school right ou of pocket for now until I can get back on student loans so I have to do a lot of searching to find my best and cheapest option Before I sign up for a class! But just with the isbn number the class gave me I was able to pay like 30 bucks for my text book in excellent used condition!

karen kolb

Thursday 26th of January 2017

My college roommate and I shared books! We each covered half the cost, and when we sold them at the end of each term we split the refund in half.

Melanie Miller

Thursday 26th of January 2017

Renting is the way to go!

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