Smarten up: You can save money on books

If you're headed to college, the cost of textbooks will probably be among your biggest expenditures aside from tuition. The average college student, in fact, will spend more than $800 per year for books, according to the College Board.

And prices keep rising: The Government Accountability Office reports, "Increasing at an average of 6 percent per year, textbook prices nearly tripled from December 1986 to December 2004, while tuition and fees increased by 240 percent and overall inflation was 72 percent." During that period, the GAO report says, the price of textbooks increased 186 percent.

But with a little planning, foresight and creativity, you can keep some of that money in your pocket.

"Textbooks are often the budget buster," says Gen Tenabe, co-author of "1001 Ways to Pay for College." "When you look at your college budget, you have required tuition and fees, which you have to pay, and living expenses and everything else (are) considered optional. In reality, textbooks are not optional. Very few students would actually pass a class if they didn't read some of the textbooks their professors are assigning."

But that doesn't mean you have to buy all of them.

Beg, borrow and ... share
One way you can save money is by borrowing books. The school library is a good place to start. Many libraries keep books for certain classes available for what is known as "reserve reading." You can't take such books out of the library; they're for library reading purposes only. The downside is that there are generally only a couple of copies of a particular book reserved, so if someone beats you to the library on a given day, you're out of luck. But if you're only going to be reading a chapter or a short portion of a book, this option may be worth exploring.

You also may be able to borrow books from your professors. Textbook publishers often send them free copies as marketing tools. A professor with extra copies of a certain book might be willing to lend you the book if you simply ask.

Angela Polk, a recent law-school graduate in Washington, frequently borrowed books from professors in both her undergraduate and law-school years.

"When you develop a rapport with your professor, you can go to his or her office and scan the shelves and say, 'I'm taking that class next semester. I need a book. Can I borrow yours?' Nine times out of 10, as long as they weren't using it to teach the class, they were more than willing to either give it out or loan it out," she says.

It pays to check in with your professor even if you don't plan to ask to borrow books. Sometimes professors plan to have students read only a couple of chapters in a particular book.
If you know this to be the case, you can save your money on that book and read the required material in the library instead.


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