For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.


14 ways to save money on textbooks

To support our site, we may use links which earn us a commission at no extra cost to you.

Sick of shelling out cash on pricey books each term for all your different modules? Here are the best ways to save money on textbooks for college and university.

woman holding book in front of books

Credit: Billion Photos (background), Dean Drobot (foreground) – Shutterstock

If you were asked to name some of the biggest expenses that hoover up your Student Loan, textbooks aren't likely to be the first thing you think of.

But here's a real shocker – in our latest National Student Money Survey, surveyed students spent an average of £24 a month on course materials like books.

While all students will need university textbooks, there are plenty of ways to save money or even read them for free. Here are 14 easy ways you can get cheap textbooks.

If you haven't already, check out the best books about money.

How to get cheap textbooks for university

Here are the best ways to save money on university books (and where you can get textbooks for free):

  1. Buy second-hand textbooks in charity shops close to uni

    old second hand books

    Credit: K.Narloch-Liberra – Shutterstock

    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 them once the class is over anyway.

    Not only does it save money, but shopping second-hand also means you can reduce your carbon footprint.

    Wob is one good place to buy second-hand books – they have some great deals.

    Amazon also has an option for you to select 'Used' when buying products which almost always dramatically reduces the price.

    And for more options, check out our list of online second-hand book sites.

    Alternatively, you can try sifting your way through second-hand bookshops or charity shops. The ones near your university will likely receive a heap of uni textbooks at the end of each term, so they're worth checking out.

  2. Buy cheap textbooks from former students

    The best and most efficient way to source the exact texts you need is to ask 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 on a departmental notice board.

    Those who have already completed your course will almost certainly have the texts you need and will likely be more than happy to sell them to students in need.

    If you're buying a few books off the same person, it might be worth haggling for a good deal, as they're likely to be keen to get rid of them ASAP.

  3. Read free university textbooks online

    If you search for book titles on Google Scholar, there are almost always a few chapters available to 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).

    For even more freebie reading, you can get your virtual mitts on books at Open LibraryProject Gutenberg or Google Books. These are all great when skimming texts on tablets or laptops.

    If you sign up to Amazon Prime (you'll get six months free as a student) you'll get unlimited access to Prime Reading, with thousands of books to choose from.

    Also, don't forget that your university will give you free access to massive online libraries of academic journals, and these are well worth taking advantage of.

    Project Gutenberg has also made it to our list of the best (and most useful) websites for students.
  4. Try textbook swap sites

    girl carrying stack of textbooks

    Credit: Africa Studio – Shutterstock

    Book swap sites have libraries of hundreds of thousands of books (and collections are constantly changing) and often include sections 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.

    Some popular sites include BookMooch and BookCrossing (where you release your books "into the wild").

  5. Use Waterstone's reward schemes

    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 loyalty points as a nice bonus instead.

    Waterstones isn't normally considered the cheapest option for books, but they do offer some bonuses that can make it more cost-effective.

    With the Waterstones Plus Card, you'll earn one 'Plus stamp' for every £10 you spend in-store or online, and every 10 stamps will add £10 to your Plus balance. Essentially, for every £100 you spend, you'll get £10 off.

    With a Waterstones Plus Student card, you'll also get an extra 5% off all purchases, as well as collect the Plus stamps.

    Check out our guide to the best loyalty card schemes around.
  6. Look for student discounts on textbooks

    Most bookshops will offer student discounts, even if they don't advertise it. It's well worth asking – if you don't ask, you don't get!

    As we mentioned you can get 5% off any books at Waterstones with a Waterstones Plus Student Card.

    Hive, the independent bookshop network, also has a student programme which applies to students, apprentices and those aged 16–26. You get a voucher code that gets you 10% off all books and after you've bought a book from them, you can even choose which bookshop you want your money to go to.

    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.

  7. Buy textbooks online

    woman shopping online with debit card

    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. That said, remember to factor in delivery costs, as free shipping on Amazon doesn't apply to third-party second-hand booksellers.

    Check out our Amazon hacks to snatch up even better deals.

    Remember you also get six months free Amazon Prime if you're a student.
  8. Download eBooks

    E-readers are one of the best student gadgets out there. So if you happen to have one, it's well worth checking out if you can get any of your prescribed books in eBook form. 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 or smartphone.

    An added bonus with eBooks is that you don't have to lug loads of heavy books around in your bag, and the ability to search for keywords will save you precious minutes when you're trying to get your essay done in a day.

  9. Borrow textbooks from the university library

    Your uni's library is a free resource filled to the brim with texts 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 around 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 it (beware: this can get political).

    It's also worth checking out 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. Just make sure to return them on time to avoid the dreaded library fines.

  10. Share textbooks with friends

    girl carrying stack of books

    Credit: HSSphoto -Liberra – Shutterstock

    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 shouldn't be all 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 of the friend who's not pulling their weight!

  11. Return university books to the shop

    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 not cracked the spine, you can always take it back and ask for a refund if it's in tip-top condition (or at least store credit to buy your next load of uni books). Someone else will buy it if it's in good condition, so don't feel too guilty about it!

    Did you know it's actually possible to get paid to read books?
  12. Sell old textbooks

    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 (remember that there will always be new freshers needing books, hint hint). This is how we keep the book world a-spinnin'!

  13. Opt for older editions of textbooks

    stacks of books in shop

    Credit: Petrychenko Anton - Shutterstock

    The chances are, if your textbook is a bit of a tomb-sized effort and carries a hefty price tag, it's probably on its 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.

    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 lot cheaper.

  14. Haggle on bulk university textbook 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.

You can make back your costs by selling any books, CDs, games and DVDs you don't need anymore.

Laura Brown

WRITTEN BY Laura Brown

Laura Brown, Head of Editorial at Save the Student, is an award-winning writer with expertise in student money. She project manages influential national student surveys and has presented findings to MPs in Westminster. As an expert on student issues, Laura has been quoted by the BBC, the Guardian, Metro and more.
Read more


Tweet / Instagram DM / Facebook DM / Email