University textbooks can be one of those ‘hidden costs’ of uni.

While most of you will have thought about how much rent, bills, transport, nights out and food shopping will come to, the cost of textbooks is one that’s often forgotten. 📚

And they can end up costing a lot. 

We’re going to break down:

  • Whether you need textbooks at university
  • How to save money buying textbooks
  • Some top tips when getting uni textbooks
  • What to do with textbooks once you’ve finished with them


Do you need textbooks at university?

For each module you study, you’ll probably get a long reading list, including ‘required reading’, ‘recommended reading’ and other books to deepen your understanding.

Some books you might truly need for your course. However - many aren’t necessary to complete your course and achieve top grades. They’re usually just suggestions that might help you further your learning.

(Sometimes, module leaders use reading lists to plug their own books, even if you don’t need them. 👎)

Now, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t get textbooks. Some will be essential to doing well in your studies, and if you like things laid out in a textbook-style way, you might prefer them to lecture slides.

And it might come down to how deep you want to go with your subject. Want to become a subject matter expert? You might want more textbooks. Not worried about reaching the top tier of knowledge? You’ll probably be okay with fewer textbooks.


How much do university textbooks cost?

Prices for textbooks vary a lot and depend on many factors, including:

  • Book type: hardback or paperback
  • The edition that you need
  • How long the book is
  • Where you buy it
  • Whether it’s new or second-hand
  • If it needs to be shipped from abroad


You might be able to get a second-hand book for £5, while a comprehensive, hardback textbook could set you back a couple hundred pounds. As a general range, most textbooks cost between £15 and £50

It’s useful to know that some subjects have more required reading than others. English Literature students will have set texts they need to read, while a law student might need up-to-date textbooks so they’re aware of the latest amendments to the law. This means the overall cost of textbooks can be a lot higher for some students than others.


Should you buy textbooks from bookshops?

All the textbooks you need for your course can probably be found at major online and physical bookshops, including Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles.

Your uni might have an official bookshop too, where they’ll stock the textbooks for most courses.

If you like buying directly from bookshops and want your own, brand-new copy of textbooks, these are great options. But they’re likely to be expensive.


Where to get cheap (or free!) university textbooks

There are lots of places to get textbooks for much cheaper, without skimping on value - the content will be the same wherever you get the book, after all, even if the front cover might not look as fresh or it’s a bit dog-eared. For some of them, you won’t pay anything at all!


Get textbooks from the library

Your uni library is likely to have copies of the textbooks you need. Especially if you’ll only need them for a short time, you might be better off borrowing them, rather than buying the book yourself.

Of course, you can’t guarantee the library will have the books you need. Plus, you might face stiff competition from other students who’ve had the same idea as you. 💡

So be proactive and try to get the book as soon as you realise you need it to avoid missing out.

Try not to hoard your books for too long, though. If you’re not using it anymore, be sure to return it as soon as you can. We all know that feeling when you keep checking the library and the book you need is never there - it’s the worst. 🙏

You can also check any local libraries to see if they have what you need. 


Make the most of online resources

Lots of unis have an online library you can use to access digital versions of books.

Or you’ll probably have an online student portal where your module leaders upload useful resources that might include sections of the books that are relevant, or even photocopied versions of whole books. 

It’s hard to know if they’ll do this until you start the module, though, so you’ll have to wait it out to see what’s available.

Also, look online in general - you might find other online sources stocking the books you need, such as Google Scholar, and check sites that let you download ebooks, such as Kindle. 

Plus, instead of getting some physical books, you might find free online versions that are just as valuable. Languages students, for example, might use online dictionaries that are just as good as physical ones. 


Buy used books from other students

Save money on textbooks and support the environment by buying them from other students!

Every year, there’ll be lots of students who want to get rid of their old books. So you’ll probably be able to get books off them for much cheaper than you’d get them new. 

Keep an eye on uni Facebook groups to see if anyone is selling the books you need. You could also make a post listing the books you want, to see if anyone’s selling them. 

You’ll probably even be able to meet the seller on campus to collect the book, avoiding any need (or cost) for postage.


Buy books on second-hand websites

There are lots of second-hand websites where you can search for the books you might need. These include:

  • eBay
  • Vinted
  • Depop
  • World of Books


It’s another way to extend the life of some of these books and avoid them getting chucked in the bin. 


Use Perlego

Perlego is a digital library of over 1 million books created to make learning resources more accessible where you’ll find digital versions of lots of university textbooks. 

With a subscription, you can access as many of the books as you need - you don’t pay for individual books, meaning you avoid the regret of investing in an expensive book that ends up being a complete waste.

If you’re using the Blackbullion Money Manager app, you can get a Perlego discount. 🙌

Charity shops

It’s always worth looking in charity shops to see if they have textbooks you might need. But it’s a long shot that they’ll have the exact book you’re looking for.


Top tips for saving money on university textbooks

Speak to people in the year above who’ve studied your course

The best way to know if you need a book? Speak to someone who’s studied the module or course already and did well, who’ll be able to tell you if a book was useful.

See what books they say helped them and which ones they bought but were a waste of money.


Only buy books when you’re sure you’ll need them

There’s no harm in waiting: you can always buy books further into your course, once you’re sure you’ll need them and something comes up that requires the book. Or if you’re struggling with something specific, that might be the time to get a certain book.

But until then, use the free resources you’ve got access to, including lecture notes and resources in your online student portal, until you need extra help.


Can you share with friends?

This is definitely harder in first year since you probably won’t know anyone and might not feel comfortable sharing books with people you’ve just met.

But especially in second year and beyond, see if you can share textbooks with a course friend - ideally someone you live with to make it as easy as possible to share.

You’ll be able to split the cost, saving you lots of money.


Get prepared ahead of time

Once first term starts, sellers know students are going to be more desperate for the books they need.

Which means they’re likely to raise prices. Or at least, they’re less likely to offer discounts.

If you can, try to buy your textbooks as early as possible for those you’ll definitely need - before summer, if you can. You might even be able to get a book for extra cheap from a student who doesn’t want to lug their heavy, used textbook back home for the summer.


You might not need the latest edition of a book

Your uni is likely to recommend the latest edition of any book on their reading list - which is also likely to be the most expensive version. But older editions are likely to have much of the same material.

This will depend on the subject and the content - for certain subjects, e.g. Law, you might not be able to get away with having any outdated information, so you might need the latest book.


What to do with old university textbooks

Once you’ve finished a module and no longer need a uni textbook, you’ll probably want to get rid of it. Here are a couple of ways to do that:


Sell your old textbooks

We Buy Books

We Buy Books is a great, easy way to recycle books and make some money doing so.

Using their app, scan the barcodes on your books and you’ll immediately find out how much money they’ll give you (dependent on condition).

You then print a label and send the books for free, or they’ll come and pick them up from you. 

However, you’re not likely to get that much for your books from here - you’ll almost definitely be able to get more money for your textbooks elsewhere.


Sell to students in the year below

Earlier we recommended that you try and buy books from other students. Now that you’ve finished with your books - sell them back to other students!

Try and sell your books to students who’ll need them for the next year of their studies, through Facebook groups or people you know at your uni.

If you bought the books second-hand in the first place, you might be able to make your money back - or could even turn a nice profit!


Sell books on second-hand websites

Use the same websites we mentioned previously for buying second-hand books.

If you’re in need of money while you study, here are some other ways to make money as a student.

Donate your university textbooks

You can also give your books away if you’re not bothered about making money off them. You could give them to:

  • Charity shops
  • A university
  • A library
  • Another student you know - who doesn’t like a good deed, after all?



So, uni textbooks don’t have to be as expensive as they might first seem. And you probably don’t need all the textbooks on your uni’s recommended reading lists.

Follow the advice above to save yourself money on textbooks for your studies and send them onto a good place once you’re done with them.

Oh, and speaking about books, here are nine personal finance books to change how you think about money.

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