Textbooks: Should You Rent or Buy?

In Pay on Dec 07, 2016

Textbooks are a sore subject for most college students. They're known for being expensive, and some students complain their professors barely use the books they've asked students to buy. Believe it or not, the College Board estimates students spend more than $1,200 on textbooks a year. That's a lot of money!

In recent years, more students have turned to renting their textbooks instead of buying them. It's cheaper to rent books over the course of the semester, saving you some money, but is it always the best move?

Buying Your Books 
When you're purchasing textbooks, you'll have a choice between buying a new book and a used one. If saving money is a top priority for you, go with the used versions. Besides some highlights or notes in the margins, these should be just as good as their new counterparts. If you're worried that will distract you, head to the bookstore as soon as you know what texts you need so you can sift through the used copies and grab one that doesn't have much written in it.

Sometimes you can't escape buying a new book. If your professor requires you get a book that comes with supplemental materials (like a CD or workbook), you may be stuck buying a brand-new book and there's not much you can do about it. If you can, find someone who's taken the class before and ask if there was a particular reason you need the latest edition of the text, or email the professor and ask if a used version will serve your purposes. Sometimes an older book will work just as well. 

Some students opt to buy their books online from a private seller instead of from the campus bookstore. These can sometimes be cheaper, but they may not come with supplemental materials. Make sure the book comes with everything you need before you buy it!

At the end of the semester, you'll usually have the option of selling your books back to the campus bookstore. Typically, buyback programs don't offer you as much money for your books; something you purchased for $75 dollars might earn you back $20 at the end of the semester. Since you own the book, though, you also have the option to keep it for future reference or sell it online. 

Renting Your Books
Renting textbooks has become big in the last few years and it's easy to see why - it's often much cheaper than purchasing books. There are many places you can rent books online, and some campus bookstores are also offering this service to their students. 

Keep in mind you need to return rented textbooks by a certain date - if you need to hang onto the book for a few extra weeks to study for finals you'll need to see if the service you rented from offers extensions. 

Sharing With a Friend
It's not uncommon for friends to split textbooks when they're taking the same class. This can absolutely make sense - two people dividing the cost of a $145 book is much cheaper than each person buying his or her own copy! But be careful before going this route - if your friend is unreliable and loses the book or can't get it to you in time for you to do your reading, you may be worse off in the long run. 
 

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