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One of the college expenses that take a lot of student by surprise are the cost of textbooks. Consumer advocate group U.S. PIRG found that cost of textbooks is on the rise, averaging $1,200 per year. Another study from the Government Accountability Office found that the price of college textbooks rose 82 percent over the previous decade, compared to a 28 percent increase in overall consumer prices.

For a student with limited funds, that’s a pretty serious expense, which is forcing students to make some tough decisions. U.S. PIRG surveyed over 2,000 college students from 150 campuses and found that 65 percent of students had decided against buying a textbook because it was too expensive. They also found that nearly half of students reported that the cost of books had an impact on how many or which classes they took.

Fortunately, there are ways to bring your textbook expenses into a more reasonable range. Here are some tips from our partner, Mary Johnson, Financial Literacy Expert at Higher One, on how to save money on your textbooks this semester.

1. Don’t buy your books for the first day of class

When you’re back to school shopping, you probably want to get all of your required textbooks out of the way so you can come prepared for your first day of class. But if you wait, you could end up saving. Mary suggests going bookless to your first class. This will give you the chance to see what your professor expects textbook-wise, including which books you’ll be using heavily, at what point in the semester you’ll need them and whether there are any books that you’ll be using minimally – or maybe not at all. Once you’re armed with this information, you’ll know which books to buy, which ones to borrow, and which books you might be able to do without.

2. Sharing is caring

If you know someone in your class, ask them if they would be willing to split the cost of the required books so you can share. This will give you access to your textbooks at half the cost. To make this work, brush up on your time management skills so there aren’t battles over who gets to use the book to cram the night before your finals.

3. Borrow books

Most likely, the courses you’ve signed up for are probably using the same textbooks as last semester, which means there may be a lot of them on campus already. Ask around to find people who have already taken that class, and see if they wouldn’t mind loaning it to you for a semester.

4. Rent, sell and buy books online

There are many websites that let you rent textbooks for a semester for a fraction of the cost of buying them. Some even offer free shipping! And when you’re done with your books, you can sell them online.

If you prefer to buy new textbooks, do a Web search for the titles you need before you head to the campus bookstore—you can probably save a few bucks buying online.

Some textbook publishers offer eBook versions, which can be much cheaper and more accessible (and even searchable) from your laptop or mobile device.

Here’s a list of online textbook resources to get you started:

5. Visit the library

Another option is to borrow the book from your school library. If they have a copy, understand that you may not be the only student trying to get their hands on it, so timing can make a difference. Remember that you can also request books through interlibrary loan, both your local public library and on campus.

6. Go old school

Textbook publishers often release a new version every few years, and your professor will most likely work out of the most recent edition. But many times the newer edition only has minimal changes from the old. And just like technology, once a new version is out, the older version is much cheaper. You can ask your professor if there is new material in the textbook so you can know if you’d be missing anything. You can also grab a cheaper international textbook, which may have the same content but a different cover image, ISBN, and possibly a different arrangement of content or chapters.

7. Consider open-course

More colleges are allowing students to use open-course or open-access textbooks, which are online versions that can be viewed and downloaded for free or event printed for a fraction of the price of buying a textbook. There are over 160 open textbooks available – mostly for entry-level classes.  Ask your profession if you aren’t sure whether you can use an open-course textbook for your class.

Before you head out to the bookstore, do a little research to see if you can cut down on the cost of your textbooks this semester. You may be surprised to find out how much money you can save! And please share any other tips you picked up on how to save on the cost of textbooks in the comments below with other students, or check out our partner’s website, www.startwithchange.com for more tips.

 

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11 Ways to Save During the Holiday Season

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The holiday season is upon us, which means significantly more spending—and more potential to encounter financial trouble. Because of the emotional play many retailers use to get you to buy from their stores, it’s important to be overly vigilant with your spending during this time. Below are 11 ways you can save (instead of spend) during the holiday season.

1. Decide how much you can spend and make a plan.

Many people don’t like to use the word “budget” because it seems restrictive. However, creating a holiday budget or “making a plan,” as we’ll call it here for all intents and purposes, is imperative during the holiday season. By making a plan, you’re avoiding overspending and essentially telling your money what to do—rather than allowing it to be in control.

2. Open a holiday spending account.

Using your main checking account to do your holiday shopping is one of the biggest mistakes you can make during the holidays. Doing so allows you to tap into money allocated for other important things like bills and groceries. By opening a separate checking account for holiday spending, you’ll help yourself stay on budget. And once the money is gone, you have a clear stop on holiday shopping. Make sure it’s a free checking account, however, like the one we offer at BankMobile. Opening an account that charges fees would defeat the purpose of doing so.

3. Account for splurges.

Let’s be honest: you’re going to splurge this month. A dress for your office Christmas party? A sale at your favorite retail store? The jeans you’ve been eyeing for months are suddenly 40 percent off? We could go on and on, but you get the drift. Set aside a dollar amount that you’re willing to spend on yourself this month. Knowing how much you can afford will keep you from being swept up by “can’t-miss” deals.

4. Cut back on expenses.

Cutting back on expenses during the holiday season—or even before—will give you more money to allocate towards the holidays. Small changes like cutting your cable (you’ll be visiting family and friends most of the month anyway!) or avoiding takeout meals will save extra cash and make a big difference in your budget.

5. Track your spending.

Using a spending log is essential this time of year. Gifts aren’t the only thing affecting your budget—more social occasions means more spending. From extra Ubers to hostess gifts, your expenses can add up quick. This usually forces people to make decisions that they may not want to make, like tapping into credit or using money that is not allocated for holiday shopping. Using a spending log will keep your spending in check.

6. Narrow down your list.

It’s easy to get caught up in the fun of the season and want to gift something to everyone you’re close to. Let us remind you (as corny as it sounds) that presents are not what the holiday season is about. Take a look at your holiday list and be honest about what you can afford. It’s not fun, but your loved ones don’t want you hindering your financial future for them.

7. Set gift-giving expectations.

Setting gift-giving expectations is really important: If your love ones assume you’re going to spend a lot of money on them, they may feel obligated to do the same in return. Having a conversation early on about gift limits will allow both parties to avoid overspending, not to mention it will sidestep any ensuing embarrassment or guilt that comes with one party not giving an equally as lavish gift.

8. Take advantage of store offers and coupons.

Taking advantage of store offers and coupons should be a given, but you’d be surprised at how many people pay full price for things during the holiday season. Many people feel like they are competing against other shoppers to get the best gifts, so they don’t spend the necessary time finding the best deals. Don’t believe the hype! Make a shopping plan for each individual on your list. Research where you can find the best deals on the product and then sign up for company email lists. Follow sales and make purchases at the right time. Ordering presents in advance (or price shopping with ample time) not only assures that you get the best deals, but also that you don’t spend excess cash on things like rush shipping.

9. Be creative.

Being creative is about understanding that you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg in order to show your love ones you care. There are many people who are more appreciative of the thought that goes into a handcrafted gift than a purchased item from a big box store. Being thoughtful can have a lasting and more memorable effect than breaking the bank. Spending quality time with an elderly relative, helping a friend clean her home the day after a big party, or offering to babysit for a couple are just a few ideas.

10. Reduce decoration costs.

You may feel inclined to go all out when it comes to decorations, but if you’re crafty enough, you can save a lot of money by creating your own. If you really love holiday decor, wait until the season is over and purchase for next year. Prices for decorations are inflated during the holidays, so buying them during the off-season can save you a lot of money.

11. Remember the reason for the season.

We cannot repeat this enough: remember the reason for the season. The holiday season is not all about gift giving. Sometimes your presence is better than your present! The holiday season is about family and friends, and should be cherished in that way.

Do you have a holiday season savings hack that you swear by? ‘Tis the season to share!

11 Ways to Save During the Holiday Season was originally published on TheEverygirl.com.

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5 Tips for Holiday Break

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Photo credit iStock by Getty Images

Like most students, you’re probably looking forward to spending time with family and friends over the holiday break. But before you relax, take a little time first to size up your finances for next semester. Here are a few tips to get you started: 

Review Your Spending from Last Semester

Not sure where all your money went? Now is a good time to examine your spending from last semester by reviewing your bank account statements, check register, credit card statements and receipts (if you saved them). One way to do this is to make two lists: one with all your unavoidable expenses, such as tuition, rent, basic food costs and insurance payments, and another with everything else—in other words, purchases you wanted at the time but did not necessarily need. Now take a look at that second list. Bet you’re surprised at how many things you spent money on that you could have done without, or don’t remember why you purchased in the first place! Make a pledge to cut back on some of those items and watch your savings grow.

Save Your Cash Gifts

Did you get some cash in your stocking? You might be tempted to blow it on those irresistible post-holiday sales, but take a moment to think about your needs for next semester. Will you have enough money for books, school supplies, gas and other school-related needs? At the very least, plan to save 10-20 percent of your extra cash for unexpected expenses like car repairs or medical emergencies. Knowing that you have a little nest egg set aside will give you some peace of mind and allow you to focus on your studies.

Budget Your Anticipated Financial Aid Refunds

If you will be receiving a refund from your financial aid award next term, keep in mind that a good portion, if not all, of these funds may be from student loans that you signed up for. These funds will have to be repaid when you graduate or leave school, so it is important to budget and spend them wisely, and make sure you have enough money to last the entire semester.

Re-apply for Financial Aid

Remember, you must re-apply for financial aid every year. You can submit the federal FAFSA form beginning January 1, 2015 for the 2015-16 academic year. Your state and school may also require you to re-apply or update your information, so be sure to visit with your school’s website or contact the financial aid office for information on deadlines and other requirements. Also, check out Mary’s article in the Huffington Post for more information and tips on applying.

Look for Part-time Job Opportunities

If you think you’ll be running low on money next semester, start looking for some part-time job opportunities or increasing your hours at your current job. The best place to start your job search is right on campus. There are lots of jobs available, from library clerk to food service worker—check with the employment office or website. You might also want to consider capitalizing on your own talents to make some extra cash by offering services such as tutoring, babysitting, dog walking, or repairing cars or electronics.

Following these tips will allow you to enjoy your much-needed break and put you on a path to financial peace of mind for next semester—so start today!

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The Perfect Traveler: 10 Ways to Plan a Trip Like a Boss!

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Photo credit iStock by Getty Images

Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” This is true in anything that you do in life. When the weather is nice, travel is an activity that experiences an immediate uptick. Whether it’s travel for business, pleasure, or both—know how to travel like a boss! Having the right travel plan will not only save you time, but also save you money as well. The following are 10 ways to become the perfect traveler:

1. Book online.

Many airlines charge fees for booking in person or on the phone, so avoid those costs by booking online. Be careful, though—even websites sometimes charge booking fees, often for certain types of tickets, such as those that include more than one carrier. Read the fine print before you click “Purchase.”

2. Choose your website.

All the airlines have their own websites for booking, and there are dozens of independent sites that let you check fares across all airlines (or almost all—Southwest doesn’t participate in third-party booking sites, so if you want to fly on Southwest, you have to go to Southwest.com). Good options for searching across multiple airlines are Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Kayak, Hipmunk, Routehappy and Momondo. They all have their own feel and features, so shop around to see which one you like best. Once you have an idea of what your preferred flight costs on the aggregator sites, check the airline site to make sure you can’t get it cheaper.

3. Avoid high-traffic travel times.

The busiest (and most expensive) days to travel are Friday and Sunday, so consider flying on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. If you have a choice of flight time, pick the first flight of the morning (it’s usually the cheapest and least likely to be delayed), or the red-eye.

4. Book at the right time.

When you book makes a difference. There’s no magic formula and airline ticket prices are notoriously unpredictable, but good air travel deals are likely to appear in the morning, so set your alarm. Also, be sure to book well in advance of your trip—in general, the more last-minute the ticket, the more it’ll cost you. Again, there’s no one right answer, but those in the know say a good time to book is six weeks before your trip (or, if you believe the Airlines Reporting Corporation, which is owned by nine major airlines—57 days). Experts say you’ll find the best deals when you book on a Tuesday or Sunday.

5. Be spontaneous.

Several airlines let you sign up for last-minute deals that can save you a bundle. You’ll get an email early each week listing the available destinations for the coming weekend—all you have to do is book, pack a bag and go.

6. Be careful about baggage.

Airlines are increasingly adding fees for things that used to be free, including baggage. Each airline has their own charges and rules, so make sure you check with the airline before you book, because those charges (typically $25 for the first bag) add up fast.

7. Make friends with the airlines.

Some of them are experimenting with targeting Twitter followers or Facebook friends for special deals, so it’s worth adding them to your social circle. Not to mention, it takes two seconds to click that “Like” or “Follow” button.

8. Sign up for fare notifications.

Several sites, including Airfarewatchdog, FareCompare and Kayak will let you sign up to receive an alert if the fare for a flight you’re considering drops, so you don’t have to keep checking.

9. Be flexible.

Many travel booking sites let you search for fares over a range of dates rather than exact dates. Often, you’ll find that changing your travel dates by even one day can save you hundreds. Also, be sure to check alternate airports—Baltimore Washington instead of Washington Dulles or Reagan National, Long Beach or Burbank instead of LAX, Love Field instead of Dallas/Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami, etc. A few extra minutes of driving could mean significant savings.

10. Don’t make changes.

We know, things happen—but try to avoid making changes to your tickets once they’re booked. Most airlines charge at least $75 to change your flight, and some charge up to $450 for changes to international flights. But here’s a hot tip: If you must cancel your ticket, airlines are now required by the Department of Transportation to issue a full refund if you request it within 24 days of making your purchase, provided your departure date is more than a week away.

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