With the summer now halfway over, students and their parents are looking ahead to college in the fall. In addition to budgeting for rising tuition costs, students are facing ever-increasing costs for their textbooks. Over the past decade, textbook prices have grown at three times the rate of inflation. This additional expense only adds to the trillion dollar debt problem our students currently face.
According to the College Board, books and supplies now average around $1,200 per year, almost 40% of the cost of tuition and fees for a community college student. Sometimes it's even more. So what's a student to do?
Even though textbook prices can be pretty outrageous, there are many ways to reduce how much you spend. Being smart about how you shop could save you hundreds of dollars this year.
Follow these ten tips to save on college textbooks.
1. Find your ISBNs. Every book has a unique identifying number called an ISBN that helps you find the exact product you want no matter where you shop. Colleges are supposed to provide ISBN information in course catalogs, so that's the first place to look. You can also find them through the bookstore or by contacting your professor.
2. Shop online. You can find a wide range of booksellers online that may offer steep discounts compared to bricks-and-mortar bookstores. Popular sites for online shopping include Amazon.com, Half.com and Textbooks.com. You can also search multiple sites at once through price comparison services such as CampusBooks.com and BigWords.com. Make sure to look for coupon codes and special sales through sites like RetailMeNot.com, and through retailers' Facebook and Twitter feeds.
3. Rent textbooks. This is probably your best bet if you don't plan to keep the book at the end of the term. Most schools rent books right on campus, and there are also online options including Chegg.com and BookRenter.com. You can also rent textbooks digitally through sites like CourseSmart.com or CengageBrain.com -- just beware of expiration dates and printing limits.
4. Get to the bookstore early. The bookstore is a great place to shop if you value convenience and want to make sure you get exactly the right materials. However, they only stock a limited supply of used copies, so if you're looking for a discount it's best to get there early before they run out. You can find other tips from the National Association of College Stores here.
5. Buy directly from other students. Other students on campus may have a leftover copy of your book, especially for popular courses, and cutting out the middleman can keep more money in your pocket. Try asking around, searching for posts on Facebook or Craigslist, or looking for an on-campus bookswap. There are also student-to-student trading sites like doUdeal.com.
6. Check the campus library. Some libraries have reserve copies of common textbooks that you can use for a few hours at a time, which can help if you don't have your own copy. Librarians are also experts at finding alternatives, so even if they don't have your book, they can help you look for other library materials on the same topic.
7. Look for alternate editions. It's always better to get the exact textbook your professor assigns, but if you really can't afford it, try searching by title and author to find discounted versions. Older editions are usually dirt-cheap and typically cover most of the same information. So are international editions that are printed for other countries at a fraction of the U.S. price. Also, for books that have been customized for your campus, copies of the standard edition might actually be available for less. Just make sure you have a classmate fill you in on any different page numbers, workbook questions and new information.
8. Borrow a copy. Professors usually get their copies of the textbook free from publishers, and sometimes they have an extra that you can borrow. Or if you're really in a bind, you can try to borrow a classmate's copy.
9. Save your receipts. A $2,500 federal tax credit is available to some students for textbook costs and other qualifying higher education expenses. That means you may be able to count the money you spend toward your federal taxes. More information is available from the IRS here.
10. Advocate for open educational resources. The best way to change textbook prices in the long run is to get the word out about affordable alternatives. So, in addition to saving money for yourself, make sure your professors and school administrators know about open educational resources, which include textbooks, readings and video lectures that are free online for everyone to use, share, and adapt to the needs of a course. Some campuses are already using these materials like Tidewater Community College, which created a 2-year degree program with zero textbook costs, and Rice University, which is publishing top-notch free textbooks for popular college courses. The University of Minnesota has created an online library of free, open textbooks that professors can easily search. Learn more about these solutions and how to advocate for them by visiting sparc.arl.org/issues/oer.
What other tips do you have for saving money on textbooks? Share them in the comments section below.