Should I Buy or Rent My Textbooks?

According to The College Board, the average college student spends anywhere from $1,240-$1,440 on textbooks per semester. Needless to say, textbooks are a monumental expense for students. We are laying out cheap options and advice for buying/renting textbooks so they don’t have to break the bank!

Here are 9 tips for getting your books for the new semester:

  1. Ask if you are allowed to get an older version of the text—this will save you money on rentals and purchases.
  2. Consider ebooks (downfall: these are not as functional and make it difficult to bookmark, highlight, or make notes.) Consider your study habits and if you will get distracted on a device or simply retain information better from a physical, paper copy.
  3. Avoid the hardcovers—Textbooks can be marked up by $200 for a new hardcover text. Check for a cheaper paperback option.
  4. Search for printable options. There are occasionally printable/downloadable options that are significantly cheaper.
  5. Wait until the first day of class or ask someone who has already taken the class (you may feel like a slacker, but sometimes it can save you hundreds). The professors may inform you that you don’t need to buy the text, provide you with printouts, or even offer a free version. Ask any college student and they have likely bought an expensive textbook for a class that they never used.
  6. Always compare prices—don’t just buy the first one you see.
  7. Check your campus bookstore’s prices (sometimes they are marked up so avoid those, but other times, they may be offered for cheaper.)
  8. Share with a friend or classmate—make sure this friend is reliable and someone you work well with.
  9. Find out if the textbook is available at the library to checkout for free when needed (however, this is a risky option as another student may have the text checked out when you need it, so make sure they have plenty of available copies if you are going to go this route).

Cheap Buying/Rental options:

Used Books Vs. Rentals

  • Keeping the text for reference if you have a higher level of that course in the future or are considering graduate school.
  • Selling the used books to make a portion of your money back (maybe all of it, depending on the buyer).
  • Highlighting/note-taking in all you want.
  • Not worrying about an approaching due date for the rental return.
  • Saving money—renting is usually significantly cheaper than flat out buying the text.
  • Not getting stuck with a textbook you no longer need once your class ends.
  • Receiving a return label for when the rental period is over so you don’t have to pay to ship it back.
  • Risking the chance of buying a damaged or heavily marked text.
  • Buying books in “acceptable” or “good” conditions—they are likely heavily marked and this could inhibit your studying/note-taking causing distractions or confusion.
  • Being prevented from highlighting in the text itself.
  • Having to return your book before your class is over (causing you to rent twice or go without a textbook close to finals. Yikes!)
  • Having your textbook marked in from a previous student.

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