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August 10, 2021

College savings: Should you rent your textbooks?

By Gordon Powers, Sympatico / MSN Finance

With three kids in university, we’re about to start our annual hunt for discounted text books. Prices for these books have been going through the roof and the average undergrad now faces an $800 and $900 bill each year.

If you find yourself in the same situation, here are a few suggestions while you’re waiting for those required reading lists. 

Some campus stores offer reservation programs where the bookstore accesses your class schedule, chooses the textbooks you need, has them boxed and ready for the first day of semester. Expect to pay for this convenience.

Second-hand books offer huge savings and it is not hard to find significant discounts on list prices. Purchasing online from sites like Text Book Exchange is rapidly becoming a viable option because it can access higher quantities of a specific title whereas book stores can carry only so much inventory. Although the selection will vary and the discount may not be as great, many campus book stores have their own used textbook programs as well.

Many students now sell their textbooks directly to peers through Facebook's marketplace. They can check the buyback and resale prices on a retail site and then sell it on Facebook for a price in between. The drawbacks for some include having to meet with people they don't know and the inability to buy all the required books at once.

Alternatively, textbook rental services like Chegg, BookRenter and CampusBookRentals, charge 30 to 40% of a book's price to borrow it for a set period — usually a semester. Rented texts may not include supplementary materials like CDs or workbooks, however. And, considering you could have sold a new copy back to the bookstore to make up the difference, the savings may not be that great.

It's also possible to legally download textbooks for free thanks to a handful of new sites and services. The biggest pitfall here is a lack of selection. Sites such as Textbook Revolution and Freeload Press offer free titles on a wide range of topics that you can download and print them yourself.

Project Gutenberg also offers thousands of free eBooks and audiobooks for older, out-of-copyright texts, which might come in handy for if you’re looking for Jane Austen or other literary classics. 

How are you fighting these rising school costs?



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...