Textbooks, of all things, are some of the priciest expenses for school. A couple years ago, The National Association of College Stores estimated that students spend around $638 to $1,200 per year on their school supplies. Textbooks have never been cheap — but incredibly, the average price for has gone up 73% since 2006. Almost a third of college students need financial aid to afford them.
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That’s just not sustainable for parents who are already spending an arm and a leg on school tuition and housing, in both high school and college. It is possible to get the money back from buying new textbooks by simply selling them when the school year is out, but that doesn’t always pan out how you want it: New editions are often released of textbooks, rendering last year’s irrelevant at worst, discounted at best. Buying also puts more pressure on you to sell when the year is over — another thing to keep track of — not to mention all the space they take up.
All of this is why you should think about renting your textbooks. First and foremost, renting is almost always the cheaper option — provided your kid is somewhat responsible. Tools like textsurf.com and campusbooks.com are invaluable for comparing the prices of renting versus buying. For example, Campbell’s Biology is $156 on the NYU bookstore, my alma-mater. I can rent it for a little over $80, according to textsurf.com.
A new copy of a basic chemistry book will run me $95 on OSU’s bookstore new, $72 used. Campusbooks.com is telling me I can rent the book from Chegg for $34, plus shipping. All those costs will add up in time over years and years of schooling.
Ebooks are starting to become ubiquitous on campus. Ebooks are generally cheaper than their physical counterparts — but they can still be rented for a bargain. On Amazon, the same Chemistry textbook as above costs over $180 as a hyper-well-rendered Ebook, but it costs $75 to rent. Renting Ebooks is easy as well, since the book will simply disappear of your device when your rental period is over, versus you having to physically send the book back. Ebook renting is a very cost-and-space conscious way of getting your kids’ books — if they have no problem learning off of ebooks, anyway.
There are exceptions to this renting-is-cheaper rule, at least for physical copies. If your kid is a slob, then a vendor might not accept your kid’s broken and coffee-stained textbook. If they’re bad with deadlines, they could miss the chance to return. And they may need the book for reference for later. For example, when I knew I wanted to be a writer of sorts, I bought Struck and White’s The Elements of Style and an AP style guide versus renting them, because I knew I’d use them again.
You have more options and tools than ever for renting or buying textbooks, so it’s important to use them all and do your research. You’ll likely find renting is more cost-conscious overall.