When, Where, and How to Buy Cheap Textbooks

Clip art of textbooks
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Ahhh! That is all I can say. When buying textbooks for college, the price tag can leave you speechless.

I have looked all over for a place where I can buy cheap textbooks (brutal honesty, such a place does not exist, but you can find some that are cheaper). In this quest, I have made purchases from a lot of different sites.

Before I share the best sites I have found, I want to share some things I have learned.

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Buying Textbooks with Financial Aid

Studying hat with coin

Obviously, using scholarships or financial aid is the ultimate way to buy cheap textbooks. However, these resources can be hard to find.

They can also be trickier to use than you would think.

Here are some useful resources and tips.

Pell Book Deferment

If you receive a Federal Pell Grant, you may also be able to use Pell Book deferment (check with your school). Pell Book Deferment gives you a voucher code that you can use at the bookstore to charge your books to your school account. This means that you can pay for them at a later date.

When I first saw this, I was excited because I thought that it meant that the Federal Pell Grant would apply to my books as well. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The grant money I received was only enough to cover part of my tuition, so there was none leftover to cover my books. The book voucher only served to delay payment.

To clarify: when using the Pell Book deferment, unless you receive more aid than your tuition costs (check with the financial aid office), the books will be charged to your account, and you will have to pay for them.

Another important note, the Pell Book voucher can only be used once a semester. If you need to use it, you will need to buy the books for the entire semester (even if your school is divided into quarters like ASU).

There is also only a limited time frame for when you can use the voucher. Check out your school’s financial aid calendar to see when the deadline to use the voucher is.


Some scholarships specifically apply to books, while others can be applied to tuition/books/fees.

In my experience, the scholarship sent the funds to the bursar’s office, and then I went, and they gave me a voucher to use at the bookstore (up to the specified amount). This meant that I had to buy the textbooks from the college bookstore.

If the scholarship doesn’t earmark the funds specifically for tuition, this could be an example where using the Pell Book voucher could come in handy. You can charge the books to your account, and then the funds will just be used for whatever is left to pay. This would be much easier than trying to verify receipts from where you bought the books online.

Division of Rehabilitation Services

Speaking of verifying receipts, this is something that the Division of Rehabilitation Services does not do.

DRS is a federal program designed to help people with disabilities gain employment. To this aim, it can help pay for some college (this will be on a case-by-case basis).

If you have a disability and need help finding employment or with school (which will lead to finding employment), you should absolutely get in touch with your state’s agency and see if you qualify for their services.

It is a wonderful program. They have helped financially, advised me, helped me get signed up with the school’s disability resource center, and cheered me on. I can’t say enough good things about them.

If they are able to help pay for your books, then that will be set up with the school’s sponsor billing department. In that case, you will need to buy the books through the college’s bookstore.

A problem can arise if the bookstore is privately owned and separate from the school (which is the case for ASU). In this case, it can be really hard to set up how to pay for the books since you cannot buy the books and then be reimbursed.

This is where the Pell Book voucher can work great. The voucher sends the delayed bill to your school account, allowing DRS to pay for the books at the same time (and in the same “place”) as they would your tuition.

Make sure you get this set up with DRS and the school’s financial aid office.

Remember, you can only use the voucher once a semester, so buy all your books at once!

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New vs. Used vs. Rent

Regardless of where you buy the textbook, you will need to decide if you want to buy new or used. You may also be given the option to rent.


I mainly buy new books.

You absolutely have to buy new if the course requires online access (these codes can only be used once, so you won’t have access if you buy used). It will cost you more if you buy a used book and an access code separately.

A surprising number of courses require online access, so double-check if this is needed before purchasing the book.

Another reason I buy new is that if I look around, I can often find new books for not much more than used books.

Plus, the price is even closer if you factor in that if you resell the books, you can get more for new than used. This is especially true if you are utilizing the school’s bookstore buyback (which I would recommend everyone do. I mean, are you ever going to use that textbook again? Probably not. Will you use that money? Absolutely!).

Finally, the biggest reason I try to buy new is the quality of the used books. By quality, I don’t mean if the book is marked up or has excessive notes or highlighting; I mean the smell.

I have severe migraines, and perfumes are a trigger. One of the first used books I purchased reeked of a combination of marijuana and super strong perfume. I suppose they thought spraying perfume on the book would hide the other smell, but it did not.

This soured me on buying used books, but I have bought quite a few over the years (and I’m happy to report that most do not have a strong smell).


Sometimes, you have no other option than to buy used. Or sometimes the deal is just too good to pass up.

There’s nothing wrong with buying used (I would even recommend it for a lot of people with a lot of books), but remember to check that you don’t need an access code first.

Also, make sure the quality is at least listed as “good”.


I never rent. It doesn’t save me enough that I want to mess around with it. Often the rent is the same price as buying the book used. Plus, between finding a good deal and utilizing book buyback or selling the book when I am done, I can often find a better deal buying than renting.

Additional things to keep in mind when you buy cheap textbooks:

Let’s cover a few more tips (from things I learned the hard way).

Order far enough in advance

Normally, if you order from the college bookstore, the book arrives fairly quickly, but sometimes it can take a couple of weeks or more when ordering from other sites. Check what they have listed for the estimated delivery time before you purchase.

I recommend ordering your books at least a month in advance if possible.

Check ISBN

ISBN barcode for books on white background

Make sure that you check the ISBN at every stage of the process.

Checking when you order the books will ensure you get the right edition.

Check again when you get the book.

I once received a book that looked like the right book (same title, authors, edition, etc.), but it had a different ISBN. I thought about not worrying about it but decided to message the retailer to check, and it turns out that it was such a good deal because it was the International Edition.

They said that this is the same book, and it is not! You do not want to buy this! It was missing two chapters (which I needed). This also threw all the page numbers off, so I could not reference it for discussion posts and papers.

I had to buy the ebook version as well so that I could have the right book right away.

It was a pain and more expensive than if I had just bought the right book from the start, so learn from my mistake: the International Edition is not always the same!

Check the ISBN!

Best sites to buy cheap textbooks:

Now that you have all the info you need. You are ready to start your book hunt!

Here are the sites that I check:

1. Your school’s bookstore

As stated, this is where you will have to buy from if you are using the Pell voucher or some financial aid. Either way, this is where I look first to get a comparison price.

2. AmazonOpens in a new tab.

I have only had great service ordering textbooks, but I’d still recommend checking the reviews for the seller.

3. Barnes & NobleOpens in a new tab.

Barnes and Noble might not come to mind when you think of cheap books, but sometimes you can be surprised. Depending on who the seller is, they can be a good deal.

4. Valore Books Opens in a new tab.

I have found some good deals on this site.

5. TextbooksOpens in a new tab.

This is another site that I like.

6. AbeBooksOpens in a new tab.

Fair warning, this is the site where I had the problem with the International Edition, but I have gotten many books from here over the years, and all the others have been a good deal and good quality.

7. AffordabookOpens in a new tab.

8. CheggOpens in a new tab.

9. BookscouterOpens in a new tab.

10. ThriftBooksOpens in a new tab.

11. eBayOpens in a new tab.

12. SlugBooksOpens in a new tab.

13. eCampusOpens in a new tab.

14. Google ShoppingOpens in a new tab.

Now you know where, when, and how to buy cheap textbooks!

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For more tips to save money while going to school, check out my post on filling out the FAFSAOpens in a new tab.!

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