Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Saving money on textbooks

The textbook industry can be pretty cutthroat when it comes to college students. They know that we've got to have the books to pass the class, and they charge a pretty penny for it, then come out with a new edition for the next term so the bookstore won't do buybacks. Legally, extra materials must come unbundled now, but a student could easily spend $500 in a term on books. It's shameless, really, but there are ways to avoid spending quite so many hundreds of dollars.

1. Know what you really need. If you think you can get away with it, put off buying books until you get your syllabi for your classes and se what you'll actually be reading. There's not even any harm in emailing your professor beforehand and asking him or her for a syllabus. If you're a third or fourth year English major, you might already have some of the material already, if you saved your Norton Anthologies. There's no point in buying a new book to read a small poem or play you've already got.

2. Use the internet. Materials for which the copyright has expired are usually available for free online. Try Project Gutenburg or Bartleby. Don't buy a glossy copy of Shakespeare's sonnets. Find the ones you need online and print them off for class. Entire novels are now in the public domain and can be downloaded for free for ereaders or to your computer. Historical texts are also out there.

3. Visit your local library. The campus library is nice, and may be the only place you'll find a particular textbook, but it's saturated with students all after the same materials. English and history majors should have an easy time finding novels and poetry collections at the public library. Library cards (and books, and CDs and movies) are free to those living inside the city limits. Just make sure you've got a hold on the book about a week before you have to read it for class so you're not scooped by someone else. In which case, quickly head to the campus library and order it through Summit. And do return on time; overdue fines are not compatible with the skint student lifestyle.

4. Take a class with a friend and share the cost (and the book). This works best if you live with the friend, because you don't want to be chasing someone through Facebook 2 hours before your test. It also gives you a good excuse to study with said friend and quiz each other.

5. Buy used whenever possible. If your professor hasn't made a deal with the devil/publishing company, they'll use a book that has been in print for a while. You've got several options for used books at UO: the UO bookstore, which supposedly gives 32% off used books to students; Smith Famly Bookstore, a locally owned shop with a location near campus with many of the textbooks available, and a general bookstore across from the downtown post office; and online sites like Amazon.com, Half.com, and Barnesandnoble.com. Keep in mind that extra shipping charges apply, which may trumps any savings from buying online. When you buy used from Amazon.com, remember that shipping applies to each book, as they will come from different dealers.

6. If you have to buy new and the price is the same, buy from the UO bookstore during the rush. There's always the chance that you'll win the free book lottery, but this could end up being an expensive last resort too.

Selling back
Near the end of term, shop around online and find the highest price for the textbook you've got. Buybacks at the UO and Smith Family bookstores are often a ripoff for the price you paid. You might actually make a few bucks on a book or two if you do your online research. From what I can tell just by looking online, the best option would be to buy the book on Amazon.com or the UO Bookstore, and sell through through Barnesandnoble.com or Half.com.

Monday, August 15, 2011

School Supplies

School supplies are my weakness. I swear I can spend an hour in the tiny basement floor of the UO bookstore trying out pens, feeling the weight of various notebooks, arguing with myself over a new pair of scissors when I've got three at home. I'm very picky when it comes to what I use to take notes, and having so many choices makes it a bit difficult to settle on the absolute cheapest stuff. If you're an art or architecture student...I can't really help you, but I do have some tips for the average note taking student.

1. See what you can get at home. If you're a freshman, the same kind of people who give socks for Christmas likely gave you some school supplies for graduation. Use them; they're free. Ask your folks if you can take some pencils from the junk drawer. My parents were teachers, so we had a box full of half empty single subject notebooks in the basement. If you've got things left over from high school--rulers, scissors, glue stick, post-its, spare lead for mechanical pencils, your graphing calculator--take them with you, and you won't have to buy new ones.

2. Troll Week of Welcome: Clubs and companies love to get their names on something you'll carry around all the time. At Oregon State, Campus Crusade gave away weekly planners for free. You'll probably be able to find soem pens and highlighters at a booth too. If you don't like the logo on the front of your free notebook, you can always cover it up with someone else's free sticker, or close to free craft stuff from MECCA.

3. Only buy what you are going to carry around in your backpack. If you restrict yourself to things you'll use every day, you'll save a lot of money that you'd be tempted to spend on a colorful assortment of post-it notes. Believe me: post-it notes have a way of multiplying; you will never need to buy them. The absolute basics can be cut down to three things: notebook, writing implements, and a planner. If you didn't manage to snag a free planner from some club, UO sells slim weekly ones for $5 that work really well, and you can cover the school seal with one of those free stickers. You might also check the Dollar Tree. Otherwise, shop around in the rest of the bookstore, Staples, Office Depot, Office Max, and Willamette Stationers, though the last one might be a bit expensive for the skint student, and office supply stores may not have a great selection of academic planners. Choose the best price, not just the best in the store. PS: You'll probably also need some printer paper. Keep an eye out for buy one, get one free sales, and you'll probably have paper until you graduate.

4. Shop during the regular back to school sales. By the time college students head out, the K-12s have had their pick, and prices have gone back to normal. Watch the newspaper for good deals. My dad would buy tons of single subject notebooks for his students, and he would get 10 for $1 at BiMart or Fred Meyer. When my church put together packs of school supplies for students in our community, I found paper, portfolios, and rulers for pennies with coupons at Office Max. Packets of pens or pencils can be found at similar prices if you know where to look. While you're at it, get a memo pad to keep track of your spending for the year.

5. Don't pay for cool: This is college. No one cares if you've got a rad Trapper Keeper. You shouldn't pay more than $1 for even the best single subject composition book (if that's your thing). If the neon pencils are cheaper than regular, by all means, get them, but don't splurge on a notebook with Garfield on the front just because it's ironic.
6. Refill your ink. New printer cartridges come about half full. There are plenty of Rapid Refill places around Eugene that will top up your ink.

My choices
Like I said, I'm very particular about what I use for school, but luckily for my wallet, they aren't all that extravagent. I use a 5 subject notebook, preferably with pocket dividers. Even as an English major with lots of ideas and dates to write down, the one notebook lasted all year. I put my syllabi in th pockets on the first day of class so I don't loose them. Being eco-skint, I look out for 100% recycled paper when I can find it. This year's is coming from Office Max. I use mechanical pencils so I don't have to worry about sharpening, and if I manage not to lose them (I've got a used pencil case this time around), then I can easily refill them with my choice of lead. I keep a couple of #2 pencils that I stole from the junk drawer in case I need them for a test. I found a small weekly planner while I was in England for 99p (about $1.50) and I may decorate it with something from MECCA. With careful unbinding, my notebook can be transfigured into "Hogwarts: A History" and my planner into "Advanced Potions" for pennies.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Grand Opening of SkintStudentLife!

Welcome to SkintStudentLife! I am Hannah, and this September I will be rejoining the ranks of penniless students at University of Oregon. I graduated in UO in 2006 with a BA in English, spent 5 years figuring out what I want to do with my life, and it turns out that what I want to do with my life requires a Master's degree in Communications Disorders and Sciences. That means 3 more years of school. My BA puts me at a disadvantage for scholarships and funding, so even though I am already very used to living within my means, I'm going to have to put a lot more effort into it this time around. I have made some choices based on emotions that were financially unfavorable, and living frugally is soon to become a matter of survival, so I plan to use this blog to keep myself well disciplined. However, I still believe in voluntary simplicity and mindful anti-consumerism, so my plans for saving money aren't always going to be about the bottom line. I've got a backlog of blog posts that I've been working on, including topics like saving on school supplies, apartment hunting, and Extreme Skint Tips: slightly ridiculous ways to pinch pennies. This blog may be a little Lane County-centric or University of Oregon-centric, because that is where I will be living/studying, but I hope all readers can take away some advice that will apply to their situations.