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College students already have to worry about rising tuition costs, but today's students need to be concerned about rising textbooks costs, too. The College Board recently found that the average college student spends $1,200 a year on textbooks and supplies.
Though that's a drop in the bucket for students at pricey private universities, it's 14% of tuition costs at a state-run public college or 39% of tuition costs at a community college. And when you consider the fact that textbook costs have increased by 864% since 1978 — rising faster than tuition prices or the consumer price index — it's no surprise why these essential educational materials are adding to the ballooning problem of student debt.
And publishers aren't helping, as they continue to encourage students to buy new books by releasing updated editions or bundling textbooks with software and other extras. Since textbook requirements are set by professors, students don't have a choice when it comes to what to buy: Unlike opting for a generic version of the same type of TV, for example, students can't shop around for lower-priced alternatives. The end result is that some students, as many as 65%, just don't buy required texts, even though it may put their grades at risk.
So what's a cash-strapped college student to do? The first step is to chat with your professor. Some professors will lean on textbook readings a lot, and others will only use textbooks as a reference. Depending on how much use specific books are going to get, you could get away with checking certain texts out from the library occasionally or sharing a book (and the cost) with a friend or two in the same course.
If you definitely need your own textbook, however, buying used is the easiest way to save, with prices up to 30% off the original retail cost. If your professor recommends a brand new edition of a book, you can often find the previous edition at an even deeper discount, and probably without many changes, though you'll want to check how different the old and new editions are before you buy. If you do buy an old edition, expect the page numbers to be different if nothing else. This can make reading assignments a hassle, but one that may be worth the savings. Try your campus bookstore or sites like Amazon, Craigslist, or Half.com to pick up used books for less.
Another option is renting a textbook from your college bookstore or an online retailer like Amazon, Chegg, CampusBookRentals, or Collegebookrenter.com. Rental times and prices vary greatly, but no matter what you decide on, expect a significant savings over buying new. The campus library can also be a source of books for no cost at all, but you may face competition from other students doing the same.
Readers, do any of you have your own tips to help students save on textbook costs? Let us know in the comments!