08/10/2011

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Textbooks on the Cheap One of the most frustrating expenses associated with college is buying textbooks. A year's expenses for an average undergraduate were around $700.00 for textbooks, according to the National Association of College Bookstores. That's old data from 2008, so figure that it's probably somewhere around $1200.00, now, depending on the location and major (science textbooks tend to be more expensive than libreral arts/humanities, for instance). I'm can tell you, from personal experience, that a single class can cost $400.00 in the humanities, and twice that for the sciences. Now there's a little wiggle room regarding what you have to buy, and what you can either skip, or obtain in other ways besides buying a new and expensive textbook. While all the textbooks your instructors assign are important, some are more important than others. "Optional books" are not required, though you probably should make an effort to borrow them from the library or another student. The books that are required really are required, so it's worth obtaining them in the most cost effective way so you have money left for ramen, or even a DVD rental. There are other options besides the campus bookstore, if you have time to spend waiting for shipping and there are other ways to cut costs—including buying used books, renting textbooks, ebooks, and social networking.You can shop at sites like Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com, as well as retailers that specialize in college textbooks. The campus bookstore will sometimes be more expensive and sometimes less expensive compared to prices for the same book from an online retailer, but they often offer used books for sale. You may even find new books for less, even with shipping costs. The catch: You need to get the book list for your classes in time to buy and have the books shipped to you, and you need to be extra careful that the books you buy are the identical books, down to the edition, assigned by your instructor. First, you need to learn the exact textbook your class will be using. That means the edition has to be correct, and for a book that's been in print for several years older. The best way to be sure of finding the exact textbook is the ISBN number (see inside the book on the copyright page, or on the back cover). You can often find the correct edition and the ISBN number online at your campus bookstore's Web site. New books will cost more. The advantage of a new book is that it's not going to be scribbled and highlighted so much that you can't read it, and it will include the "bonus" materials like a CD, or access to supplementary material from the publisher via a special Web site. Most college bookstores will offer used books when they can, and they are usually about 30% to 40% lower in price than the same book purchased "new." Many campus bookstores, when they know the text will be used again at the school, will buy back a textbook if it's in good condition. In many college towns, the local used bookstores do a brisk business selling textbooks. Most campuses have a board or forum where students can sell used books directly to each other, either in the student union or the dorms. You may find your local Craig's List forum useful in that respect as well. In some cases, instructors will offer ebook options. If you have the hardware to read the ebook, and are interested, see if your campus bookstore and professors support ebooks. Ebooks sometimes cost less than printed books, but be aware that they can also lack images and be difficult to use in terms of note-taking. Make sure that your hardware will work with an ebook. Other options include renting textbooks, or seeing if there's a copy on reserve at the library. Using a reserve book can save you money, but access to the book will be limited because you won't be the only one using it, and you will have limited time to read it. Finally, for some people and some classes, splitting the cost of a text book with a friend or roommate can work really well. If you're really desperately short on cash, you can try talking to the instructor, and asking if he or she can lend you a book, or place one on reserve in the library.