Kid #1 is a full-time college student and attends our local community college. At first, he majored in everything, but last semester he declared himself a journalism major. I pray daily for his future employment prospects.
One of the benefits of attending community college is the reduced cost for general education classes. He’s taking all the lower division classes he needs to transfer to a four-year university for about a quarter of the cost ($46 per unit versus $200+ per unit). Both kid #1 and kid #2 have been able to take some college classes while still in high school. Being homeschooled helped because their schedules were much more flexible than a traditionally-schooled student’s. Community colleges vary widely in their policies regarding high school students, so check first. Consider your local community college for the general education classes and work with a staff counselor to transfer to a four-year university.
Textbooks cost as much as (and sometimes more than) the tuition. Here’s how I manage the cost of textbooks:
Rentals. You can rent physical textbooks online. I really wish this had been available when I was taking formal, inductive logic and art history back in the Stone Age.
Once the instructors provide the name, author, and ISBN of the required books, start looking for them online. Enter the textbook information into DirectTextbook.com and get a comparison chart of merchants and prices (plus codes for discounts and free shipping). I’ve had good luck renting from Chegg.com, BookRenter.com, CampusBookRentals.com, CollegeBookRenter.com, and eCampus.com. Amazon just announced a textbook rental program, but I haven’t tried it yet so I can’t offer an opinion on it.
Our campus bookstore has started offering rentals for Fall 2012, but the prices are still high. One book kid #2 needs was $81 to rent from the campus bookstore and $56.99 to rent from CollegeBookRenter. It pays to compare prices. The earlier in a semester you start searching, the better the supply of available books.
The postage charged for rentals includes returning the book at the end of the semester. Save the box the book comes in to repackage after finals week and just print out the return forms, then drop off at the UPS store. (Might be logistically tricky for a student attending school away from home. Threaten their beer money to gain compliance.)
So far for the Fall 2012 semester, I’ve paid $152.97 for required textbook rentals versus their new retail cost of $481.20. The instructors required new editions, so buying these books used wasn’t an option.
Google Books. So far I haven’t found the books my college kids need here, but I check just to make sure. With luck, you may find a college textbook available free online.
PaperbackSwap.com. This is an invaluable resource for books used in English, Literature, and History classes. Since I use PBS for a lot of my personal books, I have a huge number of credits banked. When my college student gets his list of required reading for these types of classes, I search PBS first. Last semester, I was able to get 10 of his English books this way, saving about $75. Downside: it can take up to three weeks for the book to arrive via USPS Media Mail. You also have to be a member (free).
The Library. Some textbooks are available through the college library (ask the instructor if copies have been set aside for the class). English and Literature class books are usually available through the local public library. Most libraries also offer ebooks for checkout online. Obviously, somebody (probably you) has to stay on top of due dates to keep the overdue fines under control.
Buy used. Check DirectTextbook.com for prices and availability. Chegg.com, eCampus.com and Amazon are reliable sources for used textbooks. And try to sell them back at the end of the semester to recoup (a little) of your investment. BookScouter.com is a good place to start for selling used books.
Kindle (or other e-reader) books. Sometimes, but not always, cheaper than actual paper and glue books. Only worthwhile if you have an e-reader or a student who likes reading on their phone or computer with the free Kindle app.
Random “Books For Sale” signs posted around campus. Or Craigslist. If you’re brave enough to venture into sketchy neighborhoods with cash, you can buy used textbooks from other students. The savvy sellers post relevant textbooks for sale outside the classrooms where they’re being used. I haven’t done this…yet. Mostly because the signs go up around the second week of the semester and by then I’ve secured rentals or used books from other sources.
Buy new as the last resort. This is the most expensive option, but sometimes you simply have no choice. Use DirectTextbook.com to get a cost comparison, including any shipping and handling fees. When all else fails, I go to Amazon, so I at least get free shipping. I absolutely abhor buying new textbooks from the campus bookstore. They gouge you on the price and the buyback is less than 25% of what you paid. Make sure to check all your other options before buying new on campus.
I’d like my kids to get through college without taking on student loan debt, but that gets less likely with every passing year. Every dollar I save this way is a dollar that can go toward the increased tuition when they transfer to the four-year university. With luck, we’ll be able to scrape by. If you’ve got some super frugal tips for sending a kid to college without going bankrupt, help me out. Share them in the comments!
*Note: These are NOT affiliate links. These are the actual places I’ve used to locate, rent, trade, or buy books and they have no idea I exist as anything but a customer.
- Back to School: Saving on College Textbooks (wisebread.com)
- Why Your iPad Is Almost Always The Cheapest Way To Get Your Textbooks [Back To School] (cultofmac.com)
- College textbooks: how to spend less this year (csmonitor.com)