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Renting vs Buying Textbooks - Are You Really Saving Money?

With websites like Chegg.com and Bookrenter.com making huge splashes on college campuses across the country, there's no doubt that students are fed up with the high cost of textbooks. It's also not hard to blame them. Just a few years ago, when I was in college, I was shelling out close to $200 for a single economics textbooks from the campus bookstore. Since I have graduated, renting has become an overnight sensation, and it's easy to see why. It's seems to be just plain cheaper to rent a textbook than to buy one. However, there are a few drawbacks to renting textbooks, and a few perks to owning that students often overlook.

1. Renting textbooks is a hassle.

I personally have never rented, but I have heard horror stories from those who have. You need to be seriously on the ball if you go this route. When they say they want the textbook back by a certain date, they mean it. If you don't get it to them by then, you'll be opening your wallet again to pay late fees. Even if you do avoid these fees, it's an annoyance to have to worry about returning the book at the end of the semester.

2. You can buy used.

I tested out a basic microeconomics textbook (isbn: 9780132080231) using the textbook comparison tool and found that while Chegg was renting it for $48, you could buy it used from half.com for $67. While Chegg still represents a savings, it definitely is less significant than the $100+ you would probably save by skipping the bookstore.

3. You can sell back textbooks you own.

If you rent, you have to send the books back at the end of the semester. However, if you bought the book, you now can sell it back to book buyback merchants. Remember that microeconomics book at cost $67 used? Using the buyback tool, you could sell that book back for $66, making the grand total for using that book $1. Book buyback is the most overlooked benefit to owning your own textbook. This isn't a fluke either. I have found that most of the time (as long as a new edition hasn't been put out, oh the games we play) you can sell your textbook back for almost 100% of what you paid.

Based on these three key reasons, it's pretty clear that renting isn't a slam dunk, but has pros and cons that have to be weighed against buying the book outright. Not only that, it can sometimes cost you more in the long run to rent than it will to own. Both strategies have their risks; just don't discount going the old-fashioned route when comparing buying versus renting!


EVERY book has an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). It's a 10 or 13-digit code, usually on the back of the book, near the bar code.

isbn on textbook
Don't have the book handy? Amazon.com displays ISBNs right above customer reviews!


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