Buying or Renting Textbooks: What's Right For You

By Danielle Wirsansky on August 16, 2018

The crux of college is education, right? It is all about maturing, growing, and, most importantly, learning. You go to school, you take classes, and you complete homework. And what is a staple item of a college class’ curriculum? A textbook of course! Even after high school, you still have plenty of textbooks you need for class, just like in high school. However, in college, you have to pay for your own textbooks! And boy, oh boy, can college textbooks be expensive. And they are growing increasingly more expensive by the year.

According to The National Association of College Stores (NACS), a single textbook can cost a student up to $300 and that the average college student in 2016 spent around $655 a year just on textbooks alone! This is a much lower cost than what was projected by both the Atlantic and US News, which both depended heavily on a College Board report. They projected that students spend at least $1,200 a year on textbooks, which is a staggering number considering how much tuition already costs and how little money most college students have or make.

Many students are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to obtaining the necessary textbooks for their classes. They can either neglect to get the book and then suffer through the course with poor grades, or perhaps even flunk out because they cannot follow the material. Or they can spend the extravagant amount of money on the book that they cannot afford to and then be unable to pay important bills or afford to eat instead.

Sometimes this maddening scenario will happen as well: a professor will require a student to get an expensive textbook, for them to only assign one reading all semester from the book, or to use it very minimally. Then the student has spent a lot of money on the book unnecessarily. Many professors try to avoid doing this unduly to their students, but not all professors are so considerate.

There are usually two main options for obtaining your textbooks for college. You can either a) flat out buy your textbook or b) you can rent it. How do you choose one method over the other? Which option is the best choice for you? How can you make these pesky, expensive textbooks fit into your student lifestyle? Read on to learn the pros and cons of buying versus renting your textbooks and which method is right for you! There are some important questions you should ask yourself when making this important financial decision.


Infographic by Danielle Wirsansky

An important question to ask yourself when deciding whether to rent or buy your textbooks is how organized are you? Are you the kind of person that misplaces their planner every other day? Are you the kind of person who loses the notes they write in class before they even make it home for the day? Are you the kind of person who can never find their car keys in order to make it to class on time, if at all? Or are you the kind of person who may have clutter but knows exactly where each item in the mess is located? Are you the kind of person that keeps their notes easily organized and has their notes still saved from previous college classes or even high school? Are you the kind of person who could never misplace their planner because without it, they would have no idea of their schedule or assignments?

If you are the former person, renting a textbook may not be the best choice for you. Renting is often a cheaper choice than purchasing a textbook. But you will not save yourself any money if you lose the textbook before you can return it, and become unable to return the textbook, on time or at all. If you lose the textbook, you will have to reimburse the company for it, and it may end up costing you the same amount to pay the rental company back as it would have to have purchased the textbook in the first place. And you do not even get to have a book in the end like you would have if you purchased it (once you eventually found it, of course).

However, if you are the latter person then renting your textbook might be an awesome choice for you. You are well organized. You know where your belongings are and keep track of them. You hardly ever misplace your items. This kind of person will commonly be more able to handle the responsibility of renting a textbook and be able to reap the rewards of its cheaper cost because they will not only be able to return the textbook to the rental company but return the textbook on time. This leads us to…

Are You Punctual?

The next question you have to ask yourself, is how important a factor is punctuality in your life? Do you often meet deadlines, especially ones that are farther away into the future? Do you feel motivated to get things done on time? Do you keep tracks of deadlines and keep them all sorted and well tracked?

Or are you on the other side of the spectrum? Do you have a very hard time meeting your deadlines, especially ones that seem way far off into the future? Do you have trouble keeping yourself motivated to get things done or turned in on time, even if you do know that the deadline is swiftly approaching? Do you have trouble keeping track of your deadlines and they all become one sort of blurred together jumble that you cannot decipher and no longer try to figure out?

If you are a punctual person, then renting a textbook might work for you. You know that if you check the book out, you will be sure to write down the due date of the book and have it turned in or shipped back on time without a problem. You know that the due date will not slip away from you and you will not forget to turn that book back in. You will be on top of not only your assignments for the course, but on top of management of your textbook rental.

However, if you are not a punctual person, purchasing a book is probably a better option for you. If you cannot keep track of a deadline to save your life, you will surely not be able to turn your book back in on time. You will forget about the book after you have used it and it will become buried under other textbooks that you are currently using. You will be shocked and dismayed when you receive a notice that not only is your rental textbook late in being turned back in but that you owe a hefty late fee on the book.

Avoid the hefty late fee. Make the choice that will allow you to turn your book back in and avoid getting any fines.

Do You Take Care of Your Belongings?

This question may seem kind of harsh at the surface, but is one that you need to answer honestly with yourself. Do you take good care of your belongings, especially books? You should especially consider how you handle your books.

Do you dog ear the pages of a book to keep your place, or do you use a book mark, or do you simply and miraculously always remember your page number? When reading, do you barely crack the spin or are you the kind of person who folds a book outward and around itself so that you can better and more closely read each page (but destroy the spine of the book in the process)? Do you keep your book away from all foods, never daring to eat or drink in its presence, or do you get your best studying done while eating at the dinner table or while drinking coffee—and does that food and drink sometimes, even if it is accidentally, sometimes making it onto a page or two of your book? Do you write notes you have while reading a book in a notebook or on sticky flags that you can put in the book but always remove later, or do you highlight text, underline words, and write notes into the margins of your book in order to really make the most of your reading and to be sure you understand the material?

I think you get the picture.

You may not be intending to harm or destroy your books, but sometimes even unintentionally, you may be doing just that. You may even need to be doing it in order to really be able to buckle down, focus on your reading, and get the most out of it, as discussed before. However, you cannot treat a rental book like this because you have to turn it back into the rental company in the same condition that you received it in. This is not to say that there cannot be normal wear and tear on a book when you return it, but the book cannot be wrecked and have clear instances of destruction, like dog eared pages or writing in the margins, when returned. If you do, the rental company may, and will likely, fine you for destroying their book.

Instead, it might be a better bet to buy your own book because then you can do whatever you want to the book and there will be no consequences. You can dog ear your pages, split the spine, spill coffee in its pages, and write notes in the margins to your heart’s desire.

The answers to all of these questions have individual answers and are unique to each student, so only you can make the best decision for yourself in regard to what will work best: renting or buying a textbook, so make your choice wisely!

Photo by from Pexels

A Final Note…

Sometimes there are ways to get around spending large amounts of money on textbooks. You should always check to see if your college library (or even your local public library) has the book so that you can borrow it for free, even if it is for a limited amount of time.

Many professors will ask the library to have a reserved copy of the book kept at the front desk, if the library does have the book, so that students can come into the library, ask for the book, and be able to sit in the library and read or otherwise use the book. You may not be able to take the book out of the library with you, but some access is better than no access. You should also check at the front desk, if trying this, to see if there is a time limit to how long you can have the book checked out from the front desk. Sometimes professors will put a time limit on it so that all students can go to the library and have the chance to use the book so that one person cannot hog all the time with the book.

You should also check and see if your library has access to free e-book versions of the text or if they textbook is available online. Many times, you would be surprised at what textbooks make it to e-book format. E-books are not always the most compatible format for some students in regard to their study habits but using a free e-book might be better than spending $100+ on a physical copy of a textbook that you will only use for one semester.

In Conclusion…

Once you have made the decision between renting or buying your textbooks, you should then begin to investigate the best time of year to start doing so. Check out an article by Uloop Writer Brittany Hawes on the topic here so that you can continue to get the best deals and make the best choices for you!

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