ALEX COHEN, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Cohen.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick.
You know that overall college tuition is going up, but still, many parents and students are especially irritated by the cost of textbooks. A government report found that in the past two decades the price of these books has increased at twice the rate of inflation. DAY TO DAY's Madeleine Brand spoke with our personal finance contributor, Michelle Singletary.
MICHELLE SINGLETARY: College students can expect to spend about $900 a year for their textbooks. And in some cases much more than that, if they're taking very technical type courses.
MADELEINE BRAND: And are there some ways that students can save on the cost of books?
SINGLETARY: First of all, try to buy a used book. You can go to the bookstore and get used books from students who are finished with the course, but you want to do that right away because those are the books that go fast. I know when I was in college many, many years ago, I was...
(Soundbite of laughter)
BRAND: Like five years, right?
SINGLETARY: Yeah, just five years ago. That was the first thing I'd do. I'd drop my stuff in my dorm room and make a beeline for the bookstore to try to get used books. That's one way. More students are going online. I mean, you know, we're shopping online more often. And this is a great way to buy your schoolbook. And there are many sites that will help you find really good prices on your textbooks.
BRAND: So is it usually cheaper to go online than to go to the campus bookstore?
SINGLETARY: It can be. Anywhere from 30, 40 percent, sometimes as much as 50 percent, but you also have to factor in shipping costs. So you want to be careful. Compare what is in the bookstore to what you can get online. And one site which I like, called campusbooks.com, will allow you to basically price shop so that you can comparison shop how much your school bookstore will charge for the books as opposed to some other sites where you can get discount prices on your textbooks.
BRAND: And any pitfalls? What should students look out for?
SINGLETARY: Well, you want to be careful that, first of all, that you're getting the right textbook. Many courses change from year to year. They update it. So you want to look for the 10-digit International Standard Book Number. It's called the ISBN number.
So you want to be sure, because you don' want to pay all that money, have it shipped and find out you've gotten the wrong textbook. That means you're going to need to get your syllabus so you have the right textbook. And then be sure that you're getting a good price when you add on the cost of shipping.
Now, this time of year you may get a deal where they're not going to charge you. But you want to be careful because you could get the book cheaper in the bookstore, minus the shipping cost.
BRAND: And maybe you want to avoid those professors who are published because you know that they're going to require that you buy their books.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SINGLETARY: You know, that's actually a good strategy. When you're looking for courses, because sometimes, you know, there are two courses, pretty much the same subject and taught by different folks; you want to see what books that each professor suggests that you get. One professor may have a long list of required books and the other one may say, you know, I can do with just this one. So that is actually a really good suggestion, that you look at the courses, look at the books that are required.
And one other way to do it is to, you know, you can share a book. If you've got a roommate and you're taking the same courses or someone on your dorm floor - you've got to be able to schedule now - that maybe you can share a book, because this can be very expensive, especially for people who are taking on a lot of loans to go to school.
BRAND: Thank you, Michelle.
SINGLETARY: You're welcome.
BRAND: Michelle Singletary is our regular expert on personal finance and she writes the nationally syndicated column, The Color of Money. To hear more from Michelle, you can check out here NPR podcast. Just go online to npr.org/colorofmoney. That is all one word.