It’s pretty much common knowledge that in college, books can get expensive — so expensive that many schools recommend setting aside at least $1,000 a year to cover their costs.
I don’t know anybody who’s ever had to spend that much on them, and I personally haven’t even come close to spending that amount. I’ve taken a variety of classes, from a small poetry class of 19 to much larger, lecture-style psychology classes of 300, and have had experience with both buying and renting books. Here’s my take on that, and why I will continue to do both:
You get to keep the book, which is an obvious pro for those who think the books they’re getting might serve as a helpful resource for them in the future. For example, someone majoring in Spanish might want to keep their books that contain helpful vocabulary and grammar for future reference, because languages always build on themselves.
As a creative writing minor, I like to annotate and record personal notes in the books I read in my writing classes, so purchasing them so that I could mark them up however I liked made the most sense to me. I was also able to justify it because my books being either novels or short collections of poems made them them within a more than reasonable price range.
Another thing that helps cut down further on costs is buying used, and an earlier edition if possible. So many of the books I’ve bought used have been in such great condition with minimal underlining or damage, if any. Additionally, purchasing an earlier edition can result in spending as much as $100 less. Professors are usually pretty understanding and will let you know whether there’s a significant difference between different editions, but the content in the books usually doesn’t change. Any variations are usually in the practice problems, or in the ordering of the sections or chapters.
However, sometimes you don’t have an option — sometimes, schools will require you to purchase specific textbooks and lab manuals from the bookstore. Unfortunately, these tend to be the books that run the highest, so keep that in mind when budgeting your expenses.
Renting is often much cheaper than buying used, and every book I’ve rented has arrived in great condition! One of them actually happened to come brand new in its shrink wrap and all, but of course that isn’t guaranteed.
Additionally, there are some classes I’ve taken simply to fulfill general education requirements that I know I won’t need again in the future. I realized when I bought all my books first semester and unsuccessfully struggled to sell them back to other students through my school’s Textbook Exchange Facebook group that I no longer wanted to purchase books that would just lay around in my room at the end of the semester. While I knew there was the possibility someone would want to buy them in the future, I figured later that it was more sensible and convenient for me to not rely on that to make money back, and instead save more money off the bat by renting.
I’ve used Chegg and Amazon for my rentals, and found no difference in the quality of the books or customer service of either. Both are reliable and make it really easy to return your books at the end of the rental periods — they provide you with a pre-paid return label that you just have to print and tape to the box they shipped your books in, and then you can drop it off at the nearest UPS location. A confirmation email that they received your shipment comes within a few days, and you’re all set from there.
When I figured out what classes I was taking and accessed the book list for all of them, I went to my school’s bookstore and wrote down their prices of the books I needed. Then I went back to my room and did price comparisons using textsurf.com, which is a tool you can use to find the lowest prices for your books across the Internet.
I was very willing to do whatever I could to get the best possible deal which required a lot of planning, but by exploring all my options, I’ve ended up saving hundreds of dollars and that made it well worth it in the end.