14 ways to save money on textbooks
Shelling out cash on pricey textbooks might seem ridiculous in our digital age… and that's because it is! Here's our top tips on how to save on your uni books.
If you were asked to name some of the biggest expenses that your student loan flitters away on, textbooks aren't likely to be the first thing you think of.
But here's a real shocker – according to our annual student money survey, UK students spend an average of £312 per uni year on books alone. Say whaaaaaaat?
Whilst uni books are an unavoidable expense – particularly if you plan on taking your degree seriously – shelling out full whack for them isn't something you need to endure.
14 ways to save on textbooks
Buy second hand
If you're one of these people who likes their books all shiny and new – get over it! You can't afford to be picky about these things when money's tight, and remember you're likely to ditch these once the class is over anyway.
The key to nailing second-hand book buying is patience: sifting your way through shelves in second-hand bookshops and charity shops will take time, but can be really fruitful.
Pay closest attention to shops nearby universities – you could strike gold if a student has just off-loaded all their books at the end of term.
Ask previous students
The best and most time-efficient way to source the exact texts you need is to asks students in the year above you on your course.
Even if you don't know anyone personally, a quick post on a uni Facebook group can put you in touch with keen sellers, as can asking your department to fire off an email for you or popping a notice up on a departmental notice board.
Those who have already completed your course will almost certainly have the texts you need and will most likely be more than happy to offload them for cash.
If you're buying a few books off the same person, it might be worth getting your haggle on for a good deal, as they're likely to be keen to get rid of them ASAP.
Try swap sites
You might think searching for uni textbooks on swapping websites is a stretch too far, but you'd be wrong.
Book swapping site Readitswapit has a library of hundreds of thousands of books (and collections are constantly changing), and includes a whole section just for academic books.
Make yourself a profile, post some titles of books you're willing to trade, and get hunting for those texts from your reading list.
This goes without saying nowadays, but make sure you check prices online before you cough up in store.
You can snag some seriously low prices online, with some textbooks even coming down to ridiculous penny price tags on the likes of Amazon or eBay (although, remember to factor in delivery costs as free shipping on Amazon doesn't apply to third party second-hand book sellers).
For other sites off the Amazon and eBay track, have a gander at this guide.
If you've invested in an e-reader at any point, then it's well worth checking out if you can get any of your prescribed books in ebook form, as these tend to be a lot cheaper (saving cash on paper and ink goes a long way, apparently).
Even if you don't have an e-reader, you can also read ebooks on your laptop, iPad, smartphone or even on your Nintendo DS if you're really desperate.
An added bonus with ebooks is that if you need a book in a late night essay hurry, you can get it instantly, and searching for keywords will also save you a shedload of precious minutes.
Use reward schemes
The "Big Daddies" of bookshops offer reward cards that allow you to earn points for every pound you spend.
This is a good tactic to use if you know you'll keep coming back to the same bookshop, but make sure you're aware of how much you're actually saving and don't let these schemes dictate where you shop.
It's rare that a loyalty card will give you enough rewards to make up for a cheaper price elsewhere, so we'd suggest seeing them loyalty points as a nice bonus instead.
Blackwells give you a £5 reward for every 100 points you earn (a point is earned for every £1 you spend). It can be worthwhile signing up for a card, as if you have a Blackwells close by, you're likely to spend enough over the course of your studies to earn your £5.
Waterstones isn't normally considered a cheap option, but they have a variety of bonuses that can be used at the same time, meaning they can actually work out quite economical for students.
At Waterstone's, students earn 10 points for every £1 they spend (compared with 3 points for every £1 for non-students). Students also get an additional 10% off with a UNiDAYS account and a loyalty stamp card that involves you receiving one stamp for ever £10 you spend, and once the card it full you get £10 off your next book (or 1000 points on their card).
Look for student discounts
Most bookshops will offer student discounts, and even if they don't advertise it, it's well worth asking. You don't ask, you don't get!
We've got a whole section on student deals which we update daily, so keep an eye out for any book-related deals that pop up.
Get library savvy
Getting to grips with your uni library system will save you a whole lot of time and money.
Your uni's library is a free resource filled to the brim with text relevant to your course, so you'd be crazy not to take advantage of this (you're paying upwards of £9,000 a year, after all).
Always try to be one step ahead by borrowing books before your course gets round to covering them – this way, you'll grab a copy before your classmates snap them up.
You can also reserve books that are in high demand, which puts you next in line and prevents anyone who already has their hands on a text from being allowed to renew (beware: this can get political).
It's also worth checking our your local library, too – while the chances of them stocking an in-depth guide on quantum theory are quite thin, they may have some more mainstream texts that can still be useful for writing papers etc.
Read online for free
Every university will have access to massive online libraries of academic journals, and these are well worth taking advantage of.
Journal articles can be a bit dense at times, but journals have the most up-to-date research in every field, and that's one of the reasons lecturers appreciate you using them in your research as well as books – it shows you've consulted a variety of sources outside of the reading list.
Also, if you search for book titles on Google Scholar, there are almost always a few chapters available for preview. It's a gamble, of course, but 50% of the time you'll end up with the pages you need (and we just love it when that happens).
Share with friends
If you're lucky enough to live with someone on the same course, or know there's someone on your course living in your halls, it's worth chancing your luck and asking if you can borrow a class text for a day or two if you can't afford to buy your own copy.
Obviously it's not all a matter of take, take, take – you should offer them something in return too. Maybe you could even come to a deal that you split costs and sit together in class so you have the text to hand at all times.
Working as a team will mean you get the notes done faster, and books for cheaper, but beware the friend who's not pulling their weight!
Return your books
Alright, so this sounds like a pretty cheeky thing to do – and we guess it is, but needs must, right?
If you've bought a book and hardly cracked the spine, you can always take it back and ask for a refund if it's in tip-top condition (or at least a credit note to buy your next load of uni books). Someone else will buy it if it's in good condition, so don't feel an ounce of guilt about it!
Just take care with creases and coffee stains if you're planning on trying this trick, as book sellers will get their hawk eyes out. And if this method fails…
Sell them on
Credit: Michael Bridgen – Flickr
Reselling your texts once you're done with them can pretty much cover the cost of your original purchase (particularly if you bought it second hand in good condition) – provided you've taken very good care of your copy.
We've got a great guide to all the best sites to sell your old books as well as how to sell them offline if you'd prefer. This is how we keep the book world a-spinnin'!
Opt for older editions
The chances are, if your textbook is a bit of a tomb-sized effort and carries a hefty price tag, it's probably on it's 20-somethingth edition by now.
Obviously this depends on what you're studying, as the information in textbooks for certain subjects can get outdated pretty quickly (politics, law and geography, for example).
Ask your lecturer if it's okay to get an earlier edition instead of forking out on the latest – a lot of the time, the content will be 90% the same and a hell of a lot cheaper.
Bargain on bulk purchases
If you're buying a shedload of books, we feel your (wallet and back-)pain. We also feel you should be in line for at least some sort of discount!
Independent bookstores and smaller sellers are often the likeliest to indulge your ability to haggle in these circumstances, and it could really pay off.
If you need some tips for perfecting your bartering technique, make sure you check out our guide to haggling like a pro.
If you don't manage to find some cheap books after reading this marathon post, we don't know what will help you.
Got any bargain uni book purchasing success stories or personal tips to share? We want to hear them!