Shelling out cash on pricey textbooks might seem ridiculous in our digital age… and that’s because it is! Here are our top tips on how to save on your uni books.
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 – according to our annual National Student Money Survey, UK students spend an average of £20 a month on books alone.
While uni books are an unavoidable expense for many – 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 get cheap university textbooks
Buy second hand textbooks
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.
Amazon has an option for you to select ‘Used’ when buying products which almost always dramatically reduces the price – or you can check out our huge list of online second-hand book sites.
You could also try sifting your way through second-hand books shops or charity shops – ones near your university often receive a heap of uni textbooks at the end of term.
Ask previous 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 up 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 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.
Read textbooks online for free
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).
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 every university will have access to massive online libraries of academic journals, and these are well worth taking advantage of.
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.
Try textbook swap sites
Book swapping 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.
Buy textbooks online
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 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.
Use 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 get an extra 5% off all purchases, as well as collecting the Plus stamps.
Blackwell’s discontinued their rewards scheme in 2016, however they do have a Student Price Match Guarantee – they say they’ll match the price of your textbooks if you find them cheaper at Waterstones, Amazon or WHSmith (although conditions do apply).
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!
As we mentioned you can get 5% off any books at Waterstones with a Waterstones Plus Student Card, and you can get 10% off when you spend £25 or more online with UNiDAYS.
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
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 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 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.
Share textbooks 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 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 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!
In fact, Blackwell’s even have a scheme for buying back your uni textbooks, and you could get 40% of the book price in store credit, or 33% in cash.
However, they’re quite strict on what they accept. Books must be in pristine condition and the latest edition.
Sell textbooks on
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.
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.
Got any bargain uni book purchasing success stories or personal tips to share? We want to hear them!