Buying Books for Less: The Real Worth of a Thousand Words

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saving money on books

I am a book-aholic.  As a writer and writing teacher, it comes with the territory.  I have amassed quite the heap of hardcovers and paperbacks, but my collection is never complete, and I am always finding excuses to treat myself to an online book shopping spree.  You can NEVER have too many books.  With books often costing upwards of $13 a piece at full retail price, filling a bookcase and your thirst for words can put you out quite a bit of money.  That is why I’m offering you a few tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years for finding inexpensive books.  I’ve even included some helpful hints for those in or entering college (or with children doing so) on how to save on text books.


the big three



1.  Decide what books it is you would like.  You need to go into this with a list in mind.  Yes, you could always browse the $1 book selections that many of the following sites have, but for the most part it is best to have an idea of what you are looking for.  Thankfully, GoodReads has me covered on this one.  My “to read” list is always wayyyy longer than my “have read” list.  If you don’t have a Good Reads account already, I HIGHLY suggest you create one.

2.  Log in to Ebates.  I know Alex has already discussed Ebates a little bit earlier in her contacts post, but it really is an amazing site where you can get cash back for shopping at stores you ALREADY shop at.  Through ebates, open up both “” (4%!) and “” (2.5%).  In addition, open another tab or window on your browser with, because you can’t use ebates on Amazon on purchases like books (ebates can only be used on Amazon for purchases in certain departments).

3.  Type your books into the three different sites, and compare prices.  Be sure to factor in shipping costs!  Abebooks will show you the shipping costs in your search, but for Amazon and Half you have to add them to your cart to see shipping.  Shipping costs is often where the differences will be made (unless you are an Amazon Prime member, or have Amazon Student, which we’ll get to in a moment).  Don’t forget, Amazon also has used and new books by other sellers too, listed under the price.

4.  Check to make sure you can’t find coupons online.  RetailMeNot occasionally will have AbeBooks coupons for 5% or 10% off your purchase, or money back after spending over a certain ammount!

5.  Once you’ve compared prices, make your purchase!


It is important to keep in mind the following:

  • E-books are almost always going to be cheaper.  However, for those of you like me who need a physical book in their hands with pages to dog-ear and paper to highlight, there is no substitute for a real book.


  • Decide what you are willing to purchase.  For me, used books are a romantic idea.  I like to think about all of those who have read the book before me, and what parts made them stop and think, or changed the way they looked at the world.  The more used/loved, the better.  Some people will resist buying a used book, or a book in fair condition, and that is perfectly fine, just know you will be spending a bit more money.


  • If you don’t have a particular book in mind, but are just looking for random inexpensive reading material, I highly suggest checking out Book Sales.  These are generally sales put on by libraries or book stores in which they sell books for super cheap.  Search your local area to see if there are any upcoming sales near you!  Sometimes books are as cheap as $0.50 or $1, and on the last days of these sales there are occasionally specials where you fill a bag for $4 or $5.


  • also offers free book giveaways that you can enter.  You don’t win every one you enter, but I’ve only entered five or six and have already won a free hardcover book.


goodreads giveaway



Buying books for school is a whole different beast.  All of the above suggestions apply, but there is even more to it than that.  These are off-the-record suggestions I offer my own students (most of them college freshmen):

  • When buying books for school, it is best to first consider whether or not you will keep the book after the course is through.  If you intend to keep it, a used book will usually be just fine.  If you intend to sell it back somewhere, try to buy newer books and take good care of them so you will get more for them once you resell.


  • Be sure to register for an Amazon Student account.  Anyone with a .edu address is eligible to register and granted an account for up to six months (back when I was a student, it was for a whole year, but  they’ve since changed the game).  You will get free 2-day shipping!


  • If you aren’t given a book list ahead of time, try to email your professor stating that you wish to purchase the book online to save money and are curious as to what the text will be.  This also shows initiative, and the professor will surely remember you for it.


  • If you are hesitant to email your professor, contact your school bookstore, as they generally have a list of required texts before the start of the semester.  Do so with enough time (usually at least 2 weeks in advance) so you can get the book before classes begin.


  • If you don’t want to go through the hassle of getting the book ahead of time, or the bookstore doesn’t have the list, there are a few other ways to cheat the system.  Check your book store’s return policy.  Many will give you two weeks or more to return the book for the full price paid, as long as you have the receipt.  This is for those students who choose to drop a class and return the book.  Take advantage of this!  When your professor hands you the syllabus and tells you what books you will need, first go to your bookstore and purchase them, then purchase them online for much cheaper.  When your online order gets to you, you should still have enough time to return the other book(s) to the bookstore and get your money back, but you will have been able to read the chapters required for the first week or two.  I, personally, use handouts the first two weeks of the semester, and don’t require my students to have the books until week three.  I direct them to the school bookstore, but also make sure to note that it is quite enough time to order a book from another website if they happen to be on a budget.  *wink* *wink*


  • If you don’t want to keep the book, consider selling it back online.  Usually you will get more money online for it than you would from your college’s bookstore.  The best times to list books are obviously at the ends and beginnings of new semesters (though with some schools on trimesters, it doesn’t hurt to list the book at any time, as someone may be looking for one).  Always price it lower than any other listed book of the same quality.  The is the sure way for it to get purchased.


  • If you don’t want to sell the book back online, try to sell it back to the book store on campus.  Note, the sooner you can sell the book back, the better.  Bookstores usually start taking books back two, sometimes three weeks before the end of the semester.  If you have finals and need the book to study, this obviously isn’t the best option for you, but if you don’t need it anymore think about selling it back earlier than later.  Once the bookstore has enough books of that type for the next semester, they will stop buying books back.


I hope some of these tips help on your search for more inexpensive reading.

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