Limiting College Debt By Saving On Books

By Steve Rogers, UHEAA

Student loans can be a very important resource for students going to college. Many would not be able to complete their education without access to these funds. However, student loans can also be a source of worry for many students. It is important to understand how and when you should borrow to make sure you don’t end up regretting that decision when you graduate.

The amount a student can borrow can never exceed the “cost of attendance,” which is the number colleges calculate it will take to attend each year. When the financial aid office at your college determines your cost of attendance, it typically includes five basic categories:


  1. Tuition and fees,
  2. Room and board,
  3. Books and supplies,
  4. Transportation, and
  5. A “miscellaneous” catch-all.

The focus of this blog is to help you identify ways to save money in these areas, so you can minimize the need for student loans.

Below is a cost of attendance example:

Whether you’re just starting to plan how to pay for college, or already in the middle of doing so, there are a number of tips that can be extremely helpful in minimizing the out-of-pocket expenses (what you have to pay) in these areas:


Battle of the Books:

The dreaded book prices – I don’t know if there is a cost that bothers students more than this expense. This is often the case because book expenses come so close on the heels of having to pay tuition. Before you assume you need to buy a book for a class, there are a couple of things to do:


  • E-mail your professor and introduce yourself. Include questions you may have about the class (including what textbooks will be needed): this will not only help you make a good first impression, but also help you identify which books may be truly required for a class.
  • See if you can access a required book list early from your professor. You may be able to request a library copy before the rest of the students in the class get around to checking.
  • Get a library card. Most libraries have an interlibrary loan option, which lets you borrow books from other colleges’ libraries. The local public library can be an excellent resource as well because it can also request items through a similar interlibrary loan system for its patrons.
  • Look into electronic books or “eBooks,” when available and are great alternatives to buying printed versions. They are not only “Lorax approved,” but they are cheaper, you can usually insert comments, copy and paste notes, and access them across multiple devices. Depending on your major, a number of books are even available in audio book formats, which can increase your study opportunities. Another benefit of building up an electronic library of books is that not only will it save your back from lugging all those heavy books around, but it is a nice way to preserve your books from getting damaged, and allows you to take them with you wherever you go.
    • TIP:  College and public libraries also generally provide free access to eBooks and audio books through third party services like Overdrive and One Click Digital. These are great services that have mobile applications, which allow for an additional level of convenience for the user looking to borrow books. Ask your libraries about these and other similar services.
  • Research all your textbook-buying options. College bookstores often have good pricing on textbooks, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t better options available. Abe Books, Amazon, and literally hundreds of other sellers may have new or used versions that could save you money on a textbook. Some colleges will allow you to rent textbooks which is a nice option, if you know you’ll never need the book again. Selling textbooks online or back to the school can be another way to make a little money back. However, you would be surprised how often books from one course can be applicable in another, and it makes sense for you to have a library of resources to which you can refer, especially when they align with your college major.  If there isn’t a need to keep a book, getting a little cash back for it can be a good option. A few dollars saved here and there may not seem like a lot, but over time those savings can really add up, and help you limit the money you need to borrow in student loans.