If you're a college student (or the parent of one), you know the price tag of a college education has been soaring lately. And it's not just the tuition that's going up - textbooks can now cost a small fortune. It's become such a problem that some lawmakers are trying to crack down on the issue: a few weeks ago, Inside Higher Ed reported on legislation passed by the Pennsylvania Senate that would require administrators and faculty at state universities and community colleges to pick the most affordable textbooks available for their courses.

Here are some ways to keep from going broke if you need to buy books.

IN PICTURES: 6 Ways To Fund A College Education

Plan Ahead
A new law makes it easier to know in advance what your textbook costs will be. The federal law, which went into effect July 1, requires colleges that receive federal funds to provide textbook prices immediately when students register for a class. Keep in mind, this is retail cost, so it's likely you can get a better deal by shopping around. (If you're scrambling for tuition, check out these last-ditch options to come up with the cash in 7 Last-Minute Ways To Pay For College.)

Take it One Book at a Time
Depending on how far in advance you register for classes, you may have a while to buy your books. Rather than tackling the total bill all at once - which can be a daunting task - focus on coming up with the cash for one book at a time, which will seem a little more doable. You can either start with the most expensive one (so the others seem easy to pay for in comparison) or get a cheaper one first, for a quick sense of accomplishment.

Save Your Pennies (and Dimes and Quarters)
Lisa Reynolds, the "Mom-Saver-in-Chief" at RedPlum.com, offers this advice if you have a few weeks (or months) before you need to buy your books: "Save up loose change that accumulates in your wallet, car and at the bottom of your purse. At the end of the day, place all of this change in an old coffee can or large bowl. You'll be surprised how quickly this adds up!"

Even better: some coin-counting machines occasionally run promotions waiving their standard service fee if you convert your change into gift cards at certain retailers. See if any of the choices are stores that sell textbooks. (Sometimes, just a new way of organizing your funds can make all the difference in your finances. Don't miss Gift Card Budgeting: Pushing (Out) The Envelope.)

Consult with Your Financial Aid Office
If you are expecting enough financial aid to cover your tuition with a little extra left over, some schools will set you up with a certain amount of credit at the bookstore, while others offer students a short-term advance on their anticipated financial aid refund.

If You Need Cash Quick
If the semester is quickly approaching and you need to pay for textbooks fast, focus on strategies to help you raise cash in a hurry. Start with the old stand-bys: garage sales, temp work and consignment stores. You could consider pawning some items (pawn shops buy things outright too, if you don't want to get your stuff back), although you may only get a small fraction of what the items are worth. You can also sell your unwanted stuff on eBay and craigslist, although it can sometimes take a while to get payment when you sell online.

Don't Buy if You Can Rent
These days, book rentals are a no-brainer. You can find large inventories of textbooks (both traditional and digital versions) at sites like CengageBrain, Chegg and BookRenter. (You may not have heard of these easy, money-saving tips. Check out 5 Not-So-Traditional Budgeting Tips.)

Comparison Shop
Scott Gamm, a college student and founder of HelpSaveMyDollars.com, suggests using sites like BigWords.com, which searches more than 20 different retailers for the cheapest price on the textbook you need.

Look For Promo Codes
Andrea Woroch, consumer savings expert at PromotionalCodes.com, says you should never hit the "buy" button when ordering books (or anything else) online until you've checked for any available promo or discount codes. PromotionalCodes has a category specifically for textbooks - current codes include one for 5% off textbook rentals at eCampus and another for free shipping on orders over $25 at Textbooks.com.

College Forums or Message Boards
Many schools now have message boards or websites where students can post messages, including notices of textbooks for sale. You can often get a good deal by buying the book from a student who had the same class last semester.

Make sure to also check the Craigslist ads for your city (look in the Books category). And of course don't forget eBay - just be sure to read the fine print in the listing, or you may inadvertently buy an outdated edition of the book. (Harness the power of social buying websites to get out and try something new in Social Buying: A New Way To Save.)

Let One Semester's Books Pay For the Next
Once the semester is over, be sure to sell the textbooks you no longer need. You can sell them at your school's bookstore or to one of the online book rental sites. Be sure to use this money for your new books right away (or stash it in a safe place), so you aren't tempted to spend it on something else.

The Bottom Line
College textbooks can definitely be pricey, but by using a combination of strategies and researching your options, you can help make this expense a bit less painful. (While college freshman may be academically prepared for school they often have a lot to learn when it comes to managing money. Don't miss 7 Expensive Mistakes College Students Make.)

Catch up on the latest financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: I-Spy, IPOs And iPhones.

Related Articles
  1. Budgeting

    Your Worst Financial Mistakes And Why You Made Them

    No one intends to make a financial mistake, but an unexpected disaster or poor planning could leave you in financial distress.
  2. Economics

    The 10 Best Tech Jobs

    Discover the 10 best tech jobs, based on job demand and salary.
  3. Savings

    10 Ways To Budget When You’re Broke

    Budgets are some of the best financial tools around – when planned properly and followed faithfully.
  4. Savings

    7 Ways to Trim Fat from Your Spending

    Check out these seven ways to cut the fat from your spending.
  5. Savings

    7 Millionaire Myths

    Here are seven millionaire myths and realities that reveal they don’t quite have it all.
  6. Budgeting

    How To Save Money When Moving

    Moving doesn't have to be as expensive as you think. Here are some great ways to save money on moving costs.
  7. Budgeting

    The Hard Way We Pay For Convenience

    Convenience is a luxury. However, any cost-conscious individual should be aware of these ridiculous ways we pay for convenience and how to avoid them.
  8. Personal Finance

    Top Universities for Getting an MBA Abroad

    Going abroad for an MBA can add cachet when it comes time to get a job.
  9. Budgeting

    How to Cost Effectively Spend on Baby Clothes

    Don't let your baby's wardrobe derail your budget. These top tips help you to save money and spend wisely on baby clothes.
  10. Personal Finance

    College Students are Failing Financial Literacy

    Financial trends among college students are a cause for concern, prompting a renewed emphasis on financial literacy.
  1. Student loans, federal and private: what's the difference?

    The cost of a college education now rivals many home prices, making student loans a huge debt that many young people face ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. How does a bank determine what my discretionary income is when making a loan decision?

    Discretionary income is the money left over from your gross income each month after taking out taxes and paying for necessities. ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What is the range of deductibles offered with various health insurance plans?

    A wide range of possible deductibles are available with health insurance plans, starting as low as a few hundred dollars ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How do I know how much of my income should be discretionary?

    While there is no hard rule for how much of a person's income should be discretionary, Inc. magazine points out that it would ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What proportion of my income should I put into my demand deposit account?

    Generally speaking, aim to keep between two months and six months worth of your fixed expenses in your demand deposit accounts. ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How do I use the rule of 72 to estimate compounding periods?

    The rule of 72 is best used to estimate compounding periods that are factors of two (2, 4, 12, 200 and so on). This is because ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Ex Works (EXW)

    An international trade term requiring the seller to make goods ready for pickup at his or her own place of business. All ...
  2. Letter of Intent - LOI

    A document outlining the terms of an agreement before it is finalized. LOIs are usually not legally binding in their entirety. ...
  3. Purchasing Power

    The value of a currency expressed in terms of the amount of goods or services that one unit of money can buy. Purchasing ...
  4. Real Estate Investment Trust - REIT

    A REIT is a type of security that invests in real estate through property or mortgages and often trades on major exchanges ...
  5. Section 1231 Property

    A tax term relating to depreciable business property that has been held for over a year. Section 1231 property includes buildings, ...
  6. Term Deposit

    A deposit held at a financial institution that has a fixed term, and guarantees return of principal.
Trading Center
You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!