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Should You Rent or Buy Your Textbooks?

pile of textbooks open on desk

Choosing whether to rent or buy textbooks is a big decision that happens multiple times per year for college students. Let’s break down the pros and cons of buying versus renting.

It’s the first day of a new semester. You head to class, meet your professor, and immediately receive a long list of textbooks to buy. Textbooks are a sore subject for many college students. Professors often require students to have many books for their courses, some of which will only be used once or twice.

Buying Textbooks

barnes and noble textbook rentals

Buying textbooks can be a great option for many students. Most textbooks are available new or used, so you can save money by buying pre-owned books if cost is a concern.

There are some significant advantages to buying textbooks, the biggest of which is that when you buy it, you own it. You can mark up the text, dog ear the pages, and, perhaps most importantly, keep the book for as long as you’d like. Certain foundational textbooks might be used in many courses, so you might actually save money by purchasing the book once, rather than renting it every semester.

On the other hand, buying textbooks is expensive, especially if you purchase them new. While many textbooks are available used (particularly if your course has been taught at your university before), you might need to buy some new, especially if there’s a CD or supplementary guide that accompanies the book. Buying your textbooks can easily cost several hundred dollars each semester—no small amount.

Though you can resell your textbooks, you’ll likely only make back 20-30% of what you made. While it’s nice to get money back, you’ll have spent far more than you made (and be out a book).

Renting Your Textbooks

amazon textbook rentals

Renting your textbooks can be a great, cost-effective option for many students and there are many places to rent textbooks. On-campus bookstores often have renting options and there are many places online that you can order books for the semester. You can even rent them right from booksellers like Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

The big advantage of renting over buying is simply that it’s a lot cheaper. Typically, it’s even cheaper than buying used and reselling them. A book that costs $75 to buy might only cost $15 to rent—a savings of $60. Those savings add up!

On the downside, you’ll need to treat your rented textbooks carefully. Most companies charge fees if your textbook is damaged or lost. You won’t be able to highlight or otherwise annotate the book’s pages.

You’ll also have to return your textbooks by a certain date. Depending on the company and your rental contract, you may have to send your textbooks back before finals, meaning that you’ll be without your reference material for your final tests.

So, Should You Buy or Rent Your Textbooks?

Deciding whether to rent or buy your textbooks is a personal choice for each student. Here’s what you should ask yourself to help decide:

  • Can I afford to buy my textbooks this semester?
  • Do I need any supplementary materials, like CDs or worksheet guides?
  • What date do I need to keep my books until?
  • Will I use these books again in the future?

Your situation might change from semester to semester. Ask yourself these questions to set yourself up for educational (and financial) success.

Hayley Milliman Hayley Milliman
Hayley is a former Teach for America teacher turned curriculum developer and writer. Over the past five years, she's written hundreds of articles on everything from education to personal finance to history. She's co-author of the book  Females. Read Full Bio »
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