While my own children aren’t in need of college-level textbooks yet, I was intrigued when a friend sent me a link about Bill & Melinda Gates offering free textbooks. How could I not be? As a devoted bargain shopper and an unabashed nerd, the words free and textbook were too hard to resist. So I started researching and found myself learning all about open-source textbooks, textbook rentals, and even homeschool curriculum rentals–and now I’m sharing all of this research with you!
OpenStax open-source textbooks
The link my friend sent me was about the website OpenStax, which is funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and offers open-source free textbooks for a variety of subjects. They published their first textbook in 2012 and have been steadily adding more titles. The textbooks are available to view online, to download as a PDF, and can even be uploaded to your Kindle or iBooks for free!
But OpenStax is not giving away free textbooks for all courses. A professor has to use one of OpenStax’s textbooks in her class in order for this to be cost-saving for a student. But anyone can access the open-source textbooks online for free for their own reading pleasure, whether it’s used in a course they’re taking or not. (Nerds around the world rejoice!)
I also learned that OpenStax isn’t the only organization working to provide affordable textbooks. According to this article by Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, some states and even the federal government are working on creating their own open-source textbooks to help college students handle the high costs.
Open-source textbooks are GREAT but come with a huge caveat. They’re only helpful if your college course actually uses these specific textbooks. Which at this point is unlikely.
What about textbook rentals?
Since open-source textbooks aren’t likely to be a helpful option for students in the near-term, renting your textbooks seems like the next best choice. But just googling “textbook rental” brings up an overwhelming list of results, all claiming to be the cheapest. Even I, as a seasoned bargain shopper, felt daunted.
Enter CollegeInvestor.com’s review of the 5 most popular textbook rental websites! The author provides detailed comparisons of each website and concludes that Amazon Textbook Rental and Campus Book Rentals tie based on price and ease-of-use.
For a detailed review of all 5 rental sites, read the full article here! The author also offers a few helpful items to consider before renting:
- Consider Your Learning Style
- Consider the Long-Term Course Requirements
- Read the Fine Print
- Look for Value-Added Services
Based on my limited research, renting textbooks seems like a good option for courses that require pricey new editions or for courses whose books you’ll never need to look at again (I’m looking at you, Algebra II).
But what about homeschool curriculum rentals?
Oh man, this is a tough one for me because I have a book-buying addiction, as many homeschool moms do. The people at Yellow House Book Rental seem to have anticipated this reaction, so they list some pretty compelling reasons to consider renting instead of buying, such as:
- You want to try a new curriculum.
- Reselling your curriculum is not something you enjoy.
- You are starting homeschool mid-year.
Once you’re on their website, you can shop by Categories or by Publishers. They even have a Used Curriculum Market (Eep!). Here are the curriculum publishers they currently offer:
Since I’m most familiar with Teaching Textbooks’ prices, I decided to look at what Yellow House offers. I’ve seen used Math 7 Teaching Textbooks for sale as low as $80 and as high as $100. And of course new hard copies are $150 (versus the cheaper online version). So renting them for $70 could be a great option, especially if you simply want to try it out.
Overall, Yellow House looks reliable and affordable and is the only rental website I could find that is designed specifically for homeschoolers. Plus, it’s run by a homeschool family! Here are a few things to keep in mind from their FAQs. If you damage the rented materials, you’ll be charged the full price and the materials will be yours to keep. If you order your rental after the start of the year, they discount the rental price in October and again in January. So if you think you can complete the curriculum in a semester instead of a full-year, renting could make even more financial sense.
If you’re interested in renting your curriculum or textbooks, you can certainly find affordable options. It really just depends on what you’re looking for and whether or not you want to or need to own the books. As for me, I had no idea homeschool curriculum rentals were even an option until I started writing this blog post, and I’m happy to add Yellow House to my price-comparison routine from now on!