You've heard that books and supplies are expensive in college, and that's no rumor—the College Board estimates that these cost students more than $1,200 per year.
Your actual amount will vary based on your major, geographic region, and even your professors' choice of materials. But whether your number is less or more, you'll want to prepare. Put some money aside for these expenses, then consider the following to stretch it as far as possible.
1. Buy Used
Shop early, because used books sell fast—especially at the official on-campus bookstore. If you can't find a used copy there, look around before springing for the full-priced edition (don't worry, it'll still be waiting there for you). Bonus motivation for your search: Used books may come with someone else's helpful notes already in the margins!
2. Check Online
Tons of online sites specialize in the sale of college textbooks, including Chegg and BookScouter (which compares prices for a number of online vendors). When buying online, be sure you get the correct edition. For example, an older version of a math textbook might have different problems—and that could leave you doing the wrong homework.
3. Know Your State's Textbook Tax Exemption Laws
Many states allow you to buy textbooks tax-free. Your campus bookstore might still charge tax when you buy your books, but you may be able to get a refund depending on where you go to school. This quick reference guide breaks down which states give textbooks the tax exempt status, how to go about getting your money back, and how to avoid paying sales tax in the first place.
4. Buy Only What You Need
Required books aren't always really required. Find students who took the class previously, and ask them which ones you'll really need. You can also stop by your professor's office hours to discuss this. (Hint: Don't ask your professor which books are "important." If it's on the syllabus, it's important. Phrase it as, "which ones are most important to have on hand all semester?")
If you learn that a book isn't really important and you're only going to read a couple chapters, you may be able to get by by borrowing some books from friends or using the shared copies at the school's library. Splitting the costs with a friend and sharing the book can work as well.
5. Buy And Sell
You may be able to get some money back at the end of the semester by re-selling your textbooks at the campus bookstore or online, which can help supplement your book budget for next semester.
If you don't want to deal with shipping your books via an online retailer, see if your school has a Facebook page or other dedicated community for buying/selling textbooks. This can be a great way to speed up the resale process, or find books in-person for less than the bookstore charges.
6. Consider Rentals Or eBooks
Rentals may save you a few dollars, and eBooks are cheaper and easier to carry than traditional books. Of course, neither allows you to re-sell them at the end of the year. If you choose rentals, find out what the fees are for damaging a book or failing to return it on time; that way, you'll know how much these could really cost you.
7. Find Out If Extras Are Required
Some books come with extra features, like online videos or web tools. You usually need a brand new copy of the book to access these, but not every class uses the extras. A used copy might still be fine for your class, so ask your professor before paying full price.
Saving On Other Supplies
Books obviously aren't the only things you'll spend money on while you're in college. But if you get creative, you can find ways to save on everything from late-night snacks to lab supplies.
Here are a few tips to cut costs on some miscellaneous expenses:
1. Buy In Bulk
Go the extra mile to the wholesale shop or the discount grocery. Who wants to pay $1.50 for a bottle of soda when you can get a case for $10?
2. Find Used Goods Online
Craigslist and other bulletin board websites are full of used furniture, sports equipment, and other durable goods. A used mini fridge may be just as good as a new one—plus, all those cool stickers that are already on it are free!.
3. Shop At Consignment Shops
You can find interview-worthy office clothes, gym outfits, and everything in between at your local consignment or used clothing store.
4. Rethink Brand Loyalty
Some store brands aren't quite as good, but most are indistinguishable. For example, store-brand ibuprofen works just like the brand name—and it costs half as much.
5. Bring That College ID
If there's a college in town, many local merchants will offer discounts to students who show their ID. Sometimes you just have to ask. Many online services offer discounts if you sign up with a .edu email address, too.
6. Comparison Shop For Class Materials
You may need to provide your own tools and supplies for science, art, and technical classes. Search online before you get them from the college bookstore. You may find better deals in surprising places.
Whether it's bringing your own scrubs, wrenches, or paint, you want to make sure you get the best deal. Army/navy outlets, pawn shops, and kitchen-supply warehouses can be great for bargain shopping.