Archive for February, 2011

Cash-Strapped College Part 2: Once you’re there


This is the second of a three-part series. Find the first post here.

Congratulations, you’ve been accepted to college and secured enough scholarships, loans and savings to enroll. Now you get to explore the large and exciting (and parent—free) world that is college life. Chances are this will be your first time living away from your parents and it’s probable that you’ve never managed your own expenses before. With all the freedom that college offers, it can be easy to forget that you don’t always have the finances to explore all of that freedom. 


By this point hopefully you’ve sat down with your parents, or at least had a serious discussion with yourself, and created a monthly budget. It’s important to not only plan for your known expenses but to have enough wiggle room to accommodate unforeseen expenses like car repairs, replacing stolen property or even late night pizza for your “study group.” With that in mind, it is important to cut corners where you can because every penny you save is a penny you don’t have to borrow and pay back later at 12% interest.


Here is your guide to pinching your pennies at college.

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The search for value: Guest blog by Cheapism

The Textbook Guru wants to bring the best advice, insight and tips from other insiders and money-savers. This week, we’re happy to share a guest blog post by Sarah McClutchy at Cheapism is a consumer review site that shows you not just the best products, but the best value products.

Cash-strapped college students should always be on the lookout for deals. Why? Because textbooks aren’t the only category with money-saving possibilities. Take the time to do some online research before plunking down big bucks on furniture, electronics, or home and kitchen items and you’ll discover how to get the most bang for your dollar. After all, you want to find products that are not just inexpensive but products that will last for several years. Make it a rule to only buy products that get a thumbs-up from reviewers.

Start your research at product review sites. You can find expert reviews on sites like Consumer Reports orCnet, and user reviews on Epinions and Amazon. Then there are sites like Cheapism that pull and analyze opinions from around the web to make informed recommendations on everything from cheap space heaters todiscount eyeglasses. Cheap price tags don’t always mean cheaply made – you just need to know where to look and how to distinguish between the deals and the rip-offs. Because the bigger the bill the bigger the potential savings, we decided to focus this blog post on a couple of big ticket items.

One college essential on which you can save hundreds is a laptop. Before you spend $1,000+ on a popular MacBook, check out models costing less than $600. In its cheap laptops review, Cheapism recommends theGateway NV55C03u ($500) and Dell Inspiron 14R ($520). Each of these more affordable options is equipped with Intel’s Pentium P6100 CPU dual-core processor, runs at 2GHz, and includes the basics:  Microsoft Office, CD/DVD player, and wireless support. If you want to splurge, the Toshiba Satellite L655-S5096 boasts a 15.6-inch screen, costs about $680, and is another good option. According to the Cheapism review, many consumers are more than satisfied with these products, which are quality cheap alternatives to the trendier, but higher-priced, Mac models.

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A decrease in Pell Grant spending: Should we be concerned?


My quick answer to the question is “Yes, we should!” Simply put, any time money is taken away from college students, more students will find it harder to afford college. Many families prioritize saving for retirement first and paying for education second, based on the assumption that they can usually find money and assistance to help pay for college, but that it is more difficult to find money to fund life after retirement.


Let’s look more closely into these proposed Pell-Grant cuts so we can better understand them. According to’s article “Obama’s budget to target education Pell grants,” the cuts will come in two ways:

  1. Students will no longer be eligible for two Pell grants per year. In the past, students could apply for one grant for the regular semester and then another grant for summer school. Now students are limited to one or the other.
  2. The second cut affects graduate and professional students and comes in the form of how the government will pay the interest on loans to those enrolled in these programs.
In all, the purpose of the proposed cuts is to save around 100 billion dollars over a 10-year period, but to what effect? How will these cuts affect enrollment and graduation and drop-out rates? It is clear that with new Pell-Grant limitations, college students will have to spend more of their own money or find alternative funding in order to get degrees. According to’s article “Congress Proposes Big Cuts in Pell Grants,” the proposal will cause more than a million students to lose eligibility for the Pell Grant as it exists now. The article states that every $100 change in the maximum Pell Grant corresponds to about 200,000 recipients, and the proposed change will impact 1.7 million low-income students.
According to “The Rising Price of Inequality: How Inadequate Grant Aid Limits College Access and Persistence,” a report published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there is a growing gap between those who aspire and are qualified to go to college and their ability to meet the financial requirements for enrollment. So is this program of proposed Pell-Grant cuts short sited? If we take our brightest minds and place them in schools where they will not be academically challenged (or deny them higher education entirely), will we produce the top-quality college graduates we need to lead us into the future? Are we mortgaging our future for short-term savings?

Flat rental sales, changing leaders: Recap of January Rush, 2011



With the hectic back-to-school rush now over, I’ve had some time to sit back, wrap my head around the numbers, and try to make sense of everything. Hopefully, doing so will provide some perspective as to where the market is headed and what we all can expect as we get ready for the August rush. Below are my findings and some explanations based on comparisons and sales from

Rental Increases Compared to January 2010, but Flat Compared to August 2010

The recent growth of textbook rentals is on the minds of everyone in our industry, but is the market continuing to grow? The answer is both yes and no. January 2011 compared to January 2010 shows that rentals increased in market share from 4% of revenue to 14% for a 350% growth rate. When we look at January 2011 compared to August 2010, we actually see a slight decline from 16% to 14%. 


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Cash-Strapped College Part 1: Before You Leave


Next to purchasing a home, paying for college is one of the largest investments in a lifetime. Obviously, saving money is on the top of the priority list. Having wealthy parents is the first money-saving strategy. If that’s out of the question, there are still a few things you can do before, during and after your college years to save money. This is the first of a three-part weekly series, and going in logical order, will outline some strategies for both parents and students to cut costs and reduce loans before you even get on campus.


The earlier you start preparing for college the better. For parents, starting a college fund earlier rather than later is always advisable, even if you feel you can’t contribute very much to it each month. One option is a 529 savings plan, which is especially beneficial if your student is aiming for a state school. These plans  “are operated by the state government, [and] allow you to lock in future tuition costs at participating schools at today’s prices, providing a guarantee against tuition inflation” says Rachel Grumman, in her Mom’s Guide to College Savings.


Things like having an after school job to put money away can help too, but one of the most valuable things a student can do is learn how to budget. Learning about money goes hand in hand with earning money, and high school students who are responsible for their own expenses are often more financially responsible when they reach college.


Lisa Belkin, at New York Times blog Motherlode, says that “being the parent of an 18-year-old means second guessing a lot of choices made over 18 years, and one that I might have done differently is the decision not to have him get a job until the end of high school.” Her regret isn’t unique, as any parent slammed with a credit card bill or a pleading phone call can attest. Over the course of a four-year undergraduate study, the ability to budget their income and avoid expenses can save a student more than many scholarships award.

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Kindles in the hands of second-graders: E-Readers for early education


Image courtesy of Engadget

 Since the dawn of the digital age we have been transitioning from old technologies and mediums to new ones. Today, everyone is heralding the demise of print: magazines, books and newspapers are increasingly being viewed online through computers, cell phones and tablets. Yet the textbook industry is stuck in the days of the printing press.

For years, we’ve heard reports on the rising costs of textbooks and the amount of strain that a backpack full of books can put on the spine of an 80lb 5th grader. But while slow, change is coming in the form of digital textbooks increasing their market share in higher education. According to a report by Dr. Robert Reynolds and Yevgeny Ioffe, digital texts currently account for .5% of the overall textbook market, but they will increase by 150-200% each year, reaching 18.8% by 2014.

One roadblock that has long stood in the way of digital textbooks is hardware. With the explosive popularity of netbooks, tablets and readers (the Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook and the Apple iPad) having inexpensive eBook readers is becoming less of a concern. Take for instance the Kno tablet. The first of its kind, the Kno is a 14 inch touch screen tablet specifically designed to display digital textbooks and is being marketed to college students with the slogan “with savings of 20%-50% on textbooks, the Kno pays for itself in three terms.”

And higher education isn’t the only market. K-12 teachers across the nation are putting this technology in the hands of their younger students. At Clearwater High School, in Clearwater Florida, 2,000 students received a school-furnished Amazon Kindle preloaded with all the books they would need for the semester. Students were excited about the new technology and administrators were excited about the savings. John Just, assistant superintendent for management information systems for Pinellas County schools, said that the Kindle saved the English department so much money, it was able to fulfill its wish list, getting books like Superfreakonomics and Into the Wild.

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