Buying new college textbooks is a waste of money

Shannon Brigham, Charleston Savvy Shopper

What is one of the best ways to waste money and time in college? Buying new textbooks.

I remember spending $500 one semester on books, and that seriously cut into my laundry quarters. It has been many years since graduation, and since then, the cost of books has risen to near ridiculous levels — a minimum of about $900 per year, according to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Textbooks can represent up to 25 percent of tuition and fees at four-year public institutions, and as much as 75 percent of tuition and fees at two-year community colleges, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

I wanted to find out about how to save money on this and other college expenses, so I asked an expert: recent college graduate Jonathan Simkin, who just happens to be CEO of SwoopThat.com, a new online college textbook website.

Get books online

Use a price-comparison engine to find the best prices. SwoopThat.com integrates with schools and searches the Web to find the cheapest prices. Or save time and money by renting them — 50 percent or more. Rentals usually are priced even lower than used and are in better condition. Some top rental sites are www.chegg.com, www.campusbookrentals.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.

Download sweet apps

There are a ton of great apps for college students. Use Rate My Professors to sign up for good classes, Evernote for easy notes during class or Pageonce Personal Finance to manage your money.

Ignore the little things

Many parents stock up on items such as paper and pens, and their kids never use them. It’s best to wait until they find out exactly what they need and then buy the supplies.

Student discounts

Several stores offer student discounts on computers and electronics. Now that your kid is a college student, he can capitalize on this.

Backpack attack

Don’t go for cheap backpacks — they not only are uncomfortable, but they must be replaced after one or two years. A good backpack will last well beyond college. You can even juice it up by finding one with a laptop-holding area. That way, you don’t have to buy a separate laptop bag.

Cut costs on calculators

Don’t spend $100-plus on a powerful calculator that solves equations for them. Your kid is going to school to learn and should solve those equations himself. Force your kids to learn the right way, unless of course the professor requires it.

Don’t be ‘cool’

You don’t need expensive brand names to be cool. Buy a less-popular quality brand and feel cool knowing you just saved a ton.

Timing is everything

Back-to-school season is one of the largest retail seasons of the year, and stores will offer huge discounts for common products. Be sure to read the Savvy blog (www.postandcourier.com/savvyshopper), and we’ll keep you informed of local sales and deals on supplies to help you save big.

Have a suggestion for next week’s column? Email charlestonsavvyshopper@postandcourier.com and tell me your ideas. You can follow @chssavvyshopper on Twitter or CharlestonSavvyShopper on Facebook.