Renting vs. Buying Textbooks

Making the right decision with textbooks can save a college student money.
Making the right decision with textbooks can save a college student money. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

A college student's most valuable resource is money. In the 2010 to 2011 school year, the average college student spent $400 a semester on textbooks. One way students can potentially save a few dollars is to research whether buying or renting textbooks is the best solution for them. Over the past few years, more and more companies like Chegg and along with college bookstores have allowed students to rent textbooks. The determination of whether to rent or buy depends on your circumstances.

New Books

Purchasing a new book gives you flexibility. If the book can be a help to you throughout your college career, it may be advantageous for you to buy and keep the book.

If the book is a required text, you may be able to sell it back to the bookstore at the end of the semester for a percentage of what you spent on the book. Always check with online retailers before you buy books from your college's bookstore because you may be able to find a specific book cheaper online.

Used Books

If a course has required the same textbook for many years, it may be near the end of its life. If so, buying a used book instead of a new book could save a little money because you might not be able to sell it back to the bookstore at semester's end. It is also a good idea to search online retailers for used books; most online book retailers including Amazon and Barnes and Noble now list a used price as well as a new price.

Search local used book stores and online classified ad sites such as craigslist, oodle or OLX for the best selection of low-cost textbooks.


While the upfront cost of renting a textbook may be less money, it may not be cheaper overall if you could recoup part of the purchase price by reselling the book to the bookstore at the end of the semester.

In addition, while books are almost always cheaper to rent than to buy, renting textbooks may not be the best solution. If you lose the book, harm the book or fail to return the book in a timely manner, you may be subject to additional fees or charges.


E-books are another cost-effective way to get books for college, especially if you are a literature major. Because the intellectual property rights on many older books have expired, they are free to download from e-book stores.

However, literature majors are not the only students who can benefit from e-book technology. Most publishers have e-versions of college textbooks available at the same cost or a discounted price compared with the hard copy. If you don't like carrying around pounds of books, a single e-reader may be worth the investment.

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