Today’s guest article comes from Claire Kyle.
Stocking up for college is both exciting and intimidating. You want to express yourself with pretty cushions, or a games chair, or unusual artwork, and you are starting out your adult life, which must mean you need an ironing board and coffee machine, right? Wrong. Firstly, you do not have to spend a fortune to express yourself: when it comes to impressing your dorm-mates and feeling at home in your dorm-room decor, Target, Ikea and thrift stores made a pretty formidable team, and will not break the bank. Secondly, it is a common mistake to think you will start ironing your own clothes when you get to college – and anyway, you will find that plenty of people have brought an iron with them, should you ever need one in a hurry. You probably don’t even need a second set of bedding, as washing laundry only takes a couple of hours (or you could always wait until you’re back at mom and dad’s). Buying your textbooks requires a similar approach, so don’t feel daunted by the campus bookstore’s price tag on your reading list. Here are some suggestions for saving money on textbooks.
Avoid the Campus Bookstore
According to the Students Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGS), the average student spends $1200 on textbooks a year. With this often unexpected cost sitting alongside heftier expenses such as tuition and rent, it is no wonder that students are getting creative in handling their personal finances at college, building up a positive credit history with low APR cards and taking out loans. However, there are also plenty of ways you can ease the financial burden of reading lists. The first, unfortunately, is to recognize when your college is trying to sell you short. Colleges need to make money too, and selling textbooks at a high price is an easy way for them to do so, as it is usually the most convenient way for students to purchase all their textbooks in one place. New textbooks from campus stores will cost you the full recommended retail price, and even used textbooks do not offer much of a discount. Buying used books online, at AbeBooks.com or at Amazon.com, will allow you to shave hundreds of dollars off your annual book expenditure.
Don’t be too worried about finding the specified edition– the newest versions are always the most expensive, and if a professor urgently requires you to have a specific edition then they will say so on the syllabus. Usually the edition specified by your professor is merely for simplicity, so that the page numbers match up when the book is referenced in class – in reality, you will find that plenty of classmates have different versions. If it is a textbook that is only needed for a few weeks then having an older edition should be no problem, and could potentially save you a lot of money. It is also worth popping into thrift stores and checking out the books section from time to time – a surprising amount of political science and literature giants can be found in Goodwill and the like, for just a couple of dollars.
Consider Different Formats
One way to get your textbooks for free or at a heavily discounted price is by downloading them onto your laptop, phone, tablet or Kindle. For subjects such as philosophy, political science or literature, where you are often assigned historical and classic texts, this can save you a great deal of money, as many of the books that are old enough to be out of copyright are available for free – just search in the App Store for free books to get you started. A Kindle app is available for most smartphones, and Amazon usually charges under a dollar for e-books out of copyright. Project Gutenberg is leading the way in making more out-of-copyright books free. Two words of warning when it comes to e-books: firstly, some professors do not like electronic devices being used in their classroom, and prefer for students to have hard copies; secondly, if you are someone who likes to annotate or highlight what you are reading, you will find this option a little frustrating! There are ways to highlight and write notes over electronic works, but for some of you this will just not be the same. Still, for fairly short reading assignments or for recommended extra reading, especially when it comes to literature, being aware of the free options is very useful.
Beg and Borrow!
Making friends with people who have already taken the classes you need is always a good idea, as they might be willing to lend their books to you, or sell them on cheaply. If you don’t know anybody in the class, then perhaps there is a book exchange on campus that you could take advantage of – your students union or advisor will able to help you with this. If there isn’t, then put up a flyer on the department noticeboard stating your interest in buying used textbooks for your classes – who knows, maybe you could set up a book exchange on your campus.
Many people assume that the few copies of required textbooks in the campus library are already taken out, but often they are not. It is worth checking, and if you are organized enough to get them out a term in advance then you could save yourself a lot of money this way. Just be sure to keep an eye on their due dates, as library fines are an expense no-one wants. Finally, don’t forget to ask family members and older friends if they have any of the books you need (again, this has a higher chance of success in subjects such as political science, history and literature).
Depending upon your major, you will find yourself using one strategy more than others; you will also discover the vast array of websites where you can download your readings for free. What’s important is to talk to your fellow classmates and your professors –more professors are putting their required readings up online these days, too. If enough people seek alternatives to their campus bookstores, colleges will be forced to make textbooks more affordable for their students.