How I Saved $150 on Textbooks This Semester

Let’s face it—it’s super expensive to be a college student in this day and age. Not only do you pay tuition and fees just to attend the classes, but then you have to buy textbooks to even understand the course. Usually, this isn’t too much of a problem for me since the number of books I had in a semester ranged from three to ten. Usually, at least one of those was expensive and then I’d rent it instead of buy to save money. Unusually, this semester I have twenty-three textbooks that are required for my four classes.

Twenty-three textbooks: six for my Vietnam class, two for my fiction workshop, ten for my literature course, and four for Nevada history.

This is what I get for taking only history and English courses since those are reading-heavy, but a lot of the time my readings would be online. This semester from reading hell is a mix of textbooks and online readings, and I’m honestly not sure right now how I’m going to keep up with all of the work for each of my classes. Still, I didn’t really have a choice in not getting the books so I devised a plan to save as much money as possible.

My university does have a student bookstore that does its best to give discounts and price match, but do you really want to stand in line for an hour to price match each and every book? That, and they only price match name brand shops like Barnes & Noble or So I made a plan to visit my local, independent bookstore and scour the dealers online for great deals. Now, if you’re a busy student who’s worried that you won’t have enough time to find savings and just want the ease of buying on campus—that’s fine. I had the time, patience, and readiness to drive all over town to figure things out.

Thursday afternoon, I wrote down a list of all of the textbooks I needed and drove to Grassroots Books, my favorite indie bookstore from Heaven. I found one of them within a minute of walking through the doors and grabbing a shopping basket. Then it was a simple task to hunt through the fiction and history sections for whatever I could find. The great thing about Grassroots is that you know you’re getting a great deal, and I only had to compare pricing on one item anyway. It took me about an hour to find nine of my textbooks—all at amazing prices.

Friday afternoon, I headed into the student bookstore to grab the books I needed immediately. If I’d had a choice in the matter I would’ve tried to find them elsewhere, but having assignments due Wednesday and having the book unavailable would be a huge stress. I opted to rent one of the textbooks I needed instead of buying it because it was almost half the cost. I put a few back once I realized that I could possibly find them cheaper on Amazon.

Back home, I headed to the private seller area of Amazon on each text to find the best used offer. In many cases, even with shipping, the book was cheaper than it would be at the student store. I even found better deals on two I’d already bought. Unfortunately, I realized too late that some of the books I need to read before Tuesday would arrive too late due to the holiday weekend. Which meant another trip to more bookstores.

I found one textbook at Sundance Books, where they’d been specially ordered by one of our professors who supports the local economy over the university system. The other one I unfortunately had to go back the student bookstore to get. Since it was the last book and I had the time, I made them price match it to the Amazon Prime price and saved more by doing that. It’s exhausting to look at the giant stack of books I already have and think that I have to read all of them, but I enjoy a good reading challenge.

So how much did I save?

Calculating how much it would have cost to just buy all of my books at the student store in the same condition I actually bought them in, the total blew my mind. $355.06 for twenty-three books that I had to have no matter what. That’s almost a month’s rent! When I saw that total I was so glad that I took the more complicated route to saving money and thrifted, searched, and saved my way. In the end, I spent $206.66 and saved $148.38.

While I understand why professors assign textbooks and why many of them avoid pdfs and eBooks, or don’t want students to use technology I think it’s ridiculous that textbooks should cost that much. I’m lucky because I have scholarships that cover that cost, but many other students aren’t as fortunate. I understand that literature courses are about reading a variety of materials, but ten books is a bit much? I’d rather have four long books than eight short ones, and I’m sure that a lot of my classmates feel the same.

College is costly, but it doesn’t have to empty your pockets all the way. The best way to save money on textbooks is to figure out where you can afford to create wiggle room. If you don’t need a textbook till November then it doesn’t hurt to go for the cheapest shipping possible. There are a lot of places to find affordable textbooks:

  1. Find out if your student bookstore does price matching. If you have the time go ahead and do it, because most of the time the money goes right back into the university. Think otherwise if you have over ten textbooks. It took about five minutes just to price match my one book, and I imagine much longer with more.
  2. Barnes & Noble rents textbooks online, and they often beat the price of the student store. They provide a label so you can ship it back when the semester is over, and offer the choice to pay for it if you like it enough to buy.
  3. Check out independent and used bookstores. Often, these stores have coupons, special deals, and cheaper prices than the student bookstore by dollars. Since they’re independent the student bookstore can’t price match them so it’s the only way to get those big deals and steals! I had a coupon for a free book from Grassroots and used it to get one of my textbooks!
  4. Think about renting instead of buying. Sometimes there’s a huge difference between the cost of buying a book or renting, and sometimes not. It really depends on the book, but renting is a good way to free up shelf space when the semester is over.
  5. If your professor is okay with it look for eBooks and pdf copies. I found a pdf copy of many of my books, but my personal preference for hard copy and my professors’ lack of enthusiasm for technology meant that I ended up buying most of my books instead of downloading them. However, a lot of universities are slowly going digital and things might change the more people realize that textbooks shouldn’t be so damn expensive.

So here’s to another successful semester and to some amazing savings courtesy of Grassroots books,, the student bookstore, and Sundance books. I’m ready to start reading!