Everyone knows college tuition has increased much faster than people’s ability to pay for it, but that’s not the only cost of college that’s growing like an untamable weed. Textbook prices have gone up 1,041% from January 1977 through June 2015, according to NBC News’ analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. A single new textbook can cost a few hundred dollars, an expense the student may or may not be able to partially recoup by selling the material.
A student going to a public college is projected to need $1,225 in textbooks this year, NBC reports. For many students, the high cost of textbooks means they need to take out more student loans. This expense is often concentrated at two, three or four points in the year — the start of a term — and that’s several hundred dollars a student may not be prepared to pay out of pocket. Additional student loans or credit cards (here are some of the best student credit cards) may be necessary to cover the already expensive materials, not to mention how much they’ll generate in interest charges. Interest can suck thousands of dollars from your potential net worth, and it only gets pricier the longer you take to pay off debt. See how much money credit card debt costs you (or how much you can save) by using this free credit card payoff calculator.
Though the sticker prices on course materials keep going up, students have found ways to counter that increase. In 2014, the average student spent $638 on books and class materials, down from about $700 in 1998, according to a survey from the National Association of College Stores. Renting textbooks or buying them used has helped students cut their out-of-pocket expenses in recent years, though $638 on books you’re likely to not use again is still a lot of money.
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To minimize the impact of course materials on your finances, first explore cost-cutting measures like renting or buying used textbooks. If you need to buy new, shop around as much as you can to find the best price, and keep the text in good shape so you can re-sell it quickly and for a decent price. No matter how you navigate book shopping, try to think ahead to the next time you’ll need to buy books and save up for the expense, so you don’t need to add to your debt to make it work. Every little bit you add to your student loan debt or credit card balances means you’ll be paying more for a longer period of time, which can hurt your ability to reach other financial goals, like buying a car, owning a home or saving for retirement.