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Don’t Let The Textbook Racket Shake You Down. Here’s How to Save Your Money.

Pro tip for incoming college freshmen: many, many people are going to try and nickel and dime you over the next four years. Don’t let the student bookstore rob you blind.

Here’s some advice for the wide-eyed incoming college freshman. Over the next four years, a lot of different people are going to try and nickel and dime you. Your university has a monopoly on nearly everything in your life and it’s going to ride that advantage all the way to the bank. You don’t have much choice when it comes to your dorm or the cafeteria. You do have choices to help you save some money on textbooks. Moneyhas the scoop:

The price of new printed textbooks continues to rise—up more than 7% last year alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and 82% between 2002 and 2012, as calculated by the Government Accountability Office.

The collegiates are wising up though and have found ways to save on course materials. Here’s how:

1. Textbook Rental: That $80 tome you had to buy for a GenEd Public Speaking course will already be outdated by the end of the semester when the bookstore offers you seven bucks to buy it back. Check to see if your college has a rental program. If it does, shop around online anyway. From the Time piece:

A new copy of the 10th edition of Campbell Biology lists for $230, but a paper copy can be rented from for $67 (with a December 19 return) or $110 for an e-book (with a 180-day subscription).

This is optimal for one-off courses that don’t fall in your major. It makes less sense if you’re in need of a text you plan on returning to in the coming years.

2. Start Early and Shop Around: Your list of required texts will be available to you months in advance. As soon as you get your courses, find out what books you need and start shopping because the student bookstore feasts on those who wait until the last minute. If you start at the previous semester’s end, you may get a terrific deal on a just-used book on Amazon Marketplace or similar sites. Just as a basic rule of thumb, the online price is almost always going to be lower than the bookstore. Take advantage of your free year of Amazon Student and get those babies shipped for free.

3. Open Source and Public Domain: Some colleges and instructors are shifting toward open source, low-cost alternatives to the heavy editions. Time:

The University System of Maryland ran a pilot program last spring at the behest of its student council. Eleven faculty members from seven institutions across Maryland participated. Roughly 1,100 students saved a total of around $130,000 in just one semester.


Look to see if there are groups lobbying for this on your campus and join in. Plus, for all you literature majors out there, remember that you don’t needn’t spend a dime on anything older than The Great Gatsby. Visit Project Gutenberg instead. Pay a visit to the department Inkjet if you insist on reading off a printed page.

4. Sharing is Caring: If you’re taking a course with a friend, think about splitting the cost. Explore additional avenues for borrowing texts. Some professors keep copies on reserve, either in the library or in the department commons. Find out who you know that have taken the course in the past and see if they still have their book.

5. The Library: No, your library probably doesn’t have a copy of the textbook you need. But it’s still worth taking a look, especially if you’re taking step 2 to heart and getting an early start. If your university library is part of a consortium, scour the catalogs of affiliated schools. You never know what you might find. I got away with spending pennies on textbooks my final year of grad school thanks to some good fortune and generous borrowing privileges. If a similar opportunity exists for you, take it.

The focus of the Time piece (linked again below) is how students have managed to pay less in on books in recent years. Technology and know-how are certainly contributors. One other reason is some students opt to skip acquiring the really expensive books, which I don’t recommend. You’re investing a ton in your education. You have to find a way to get the texts. Just don’t give in to the extortionists who run the student bookstore.

Read more at Money.

Photo credit: el nur / Shutterstock


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