College expenses add stress to the already strapped. Here are some ways to save.

Submitted by Jen Jones on Thu, 09/02/2010 - 12:39pm

College expenses add stress to the already strapped. Here are some ways to save.

Well, it’s fall. In terms of school, anyway. And if you have a kid heading off to college now or this time next year, it means all kinds of expenses, like dorm supplies, new clothes, a computer and of course, textbooks.

A student’s learning resources have become one of the most underrated expenses of the college experience. Parents today worry greatly about tuition and room and board (as they should) but tend to be quite surprised when another $1,000 is needed just so a student can do the required readings.

For parents in a tough financial spot but who managed to send a child off to college, textbook costs can become a unexpected economical pain-point. Thankfully, there are more options than ever before for saving on the rising costs of books and other published resources.

Apparently, a new law was passed recently (who knew?) that mandates colleges and universities post online the course materials per semester schedule. This means that you have more time to research the best financial avenues to explore for cheaper books because the cost and ISBN (International Standard Book Number, in case you’re curious) will be listed with the course.

Now, let’s get digging.

First—and this sounds obvious but you would be surprised at how rarely it’s used—go to the college library. Most schools buy textbooks for their library collections as well and voila, you have a free book! Sure, it’s going to need to be renewed a few times but hey, the early bird catches the worm.

One of your next best options is to rent your textbooks. Granted, this isn’t the best approach for long-term learning but at least you’ll have time to understand to what extent a professor uses a specific book and then decide, after the course, if its worth purchasing. And if it is not a book for a course in your child’s major, long-term ownership wouldn’t make all that much sense anyway.

Web sites like Chegg.com and CampusBookRentals.com rent textbooks. Be sure to understand their guidelines to avoid late or damage fees. Let’s kid ourselves, course books make great beer mug coasters.

Since this is college in the age of the Internet, don’t forget about the ever-growing collection of e-books. Without all the expensive printing and distribution costs, electronic versions are often substantially less and coincide perfectly with the level of comfort today’s college students have with the Web and reading things from laptop screens.

Web sites for your student to peruse for e-versions of their books include CourseSmart.com and Abebooks.com. There are also options for included course materials that commonly accompany a respective text. Once downloaded, there are a number of additional ways to make highlights and bookmark specific sections that need to be referred to later in the course. There is also a service called iChapters.com that allows for the download of individual chapters of specific books.

Like any expensive product, don’t forget the value of simply shopping around. A $10 difference per book can offer pretty nice savings to college parents on a budget, which includes just about everyone today. Remember that the books get updated quite often, so the ISBN is your friend when it comes to ensuring you have the latest version required for a course.

College costs are continuing to climb every year and the grants and scholarships available don’t seem to be keeping pace. Plus, more and more kids are attending college, so the competition is only increasing. Remember that federal college savings plans can remain intact after a bankruptcy, so plan early and contribute often.

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