Monday, October 17, 2022

5 Ways to Budget for College Textbooks and Course Materials

Okay--we all know that college tuition and room and board are significant expenses for families! You may have the hefty costs of college worked into your budget or covered by scholarships. You may still be faced with some sticker shock when the lists of textbooks, study guides, supplemental materials, online program access codes, and an assortment of other necessary course materials roll in with the syllabi at the beginning of the semester! Here are five ways to fit college textbooks and course materials into your budget without breaking the bank!  


Procrastinate on the Purchase.  I am not a fan of procrastination. I know that waiting to buy college textbooks and supplies can mean that used books are no longer available--but there is a method to my madness. A professor often decides to use only some of the books listed in their syllabus! Sometimes, they discover that a title is difficult to obtain or forget to mention that you can use an older (cheaper!) version of the book or an online version, etc. Some professors list several required texts on the course syllabus when, in reality, one text is needed, and the others are optional. We have had professors change the required textbook(s) during the first class meeting or via email in the days before class. Some digital items or books with special online access codes may not be returnable after purchase! Have your student wait until that first class meeting to ensure the books are necessary.  


Visit the Campus Library.  While this won't work for online courseware or special digital items--it does work for good old, hard copies of textbooks. Take the syllabi to the campus library or your local community library and put holds or reserves on all the books you can for the semester! You may need to renew a book once or twice to finish the semester--but this is definitely a way to stretch your book budget a little further on books you don't intend to keep after the semester. This technique worked very well for my daughter's Shakespeare course. She could check out all six books required for the semester at our city library. It saved her about $100 over the semester on that course alone.


Don't Rule Out Borrowing a Little to Cover the Gap.  Student aid and loans don't always cover everything. I was one of those students who was always a little short after all the financial assistance was said and done. My parents could not help, and I was always a few hundred bucks short. I had a rich uncle (literally) who would lend me a few hundred dollars a semester to cover some of my fees. If you don't have a rich uncle, you may need to take an actual small, short-term loan so you can get the money you need to cover those last few books and course materials.   


Comparison Shop for Every. Single. Book.  When I was in college, I had limited options:

  • Buy used in the campus book store.
  • Buy new from the campus book store.
  • Hit the library for copies.
  • Buy/borrow from a friend who had the book.


Today, the online world makes it super easy to find books online and shop around for the best price. Sometimes, we find that the college book store has the best price--sometimes Amazon--sometimes another random online, used book store or an independent seller online. It never hurts to scout out Facebook groups for your student's university, as there is usually a buy/sell group for books or a parent group listing a student's old text for sale too!


Set up a Savings Fund for Books.  Perhaps you already have grandparents, aunts, and uncles regularly donating to college savings accounts for your student's holidays and birthdays. If so, remember that you can use money from those college savings accounts for qualifying books and supplies. If you do not have an official college savings account, you can still set aside money regularly into a little savings fund earmarked for books. Setting aside just a little each week throughout the year can really take some of the sting out of a several hundred-dollar college textbook bill!  


College is expensive--especially when you consider the extra and the add-ons--but there are ways to soften the blow without breaking the bank!

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