While college is a big transition for kids, it's also a huge strain on everybody's wallet. Fortunately, there are a number of companies catering to the growing demand of the starving college student and his cash-strapped folks. There are also some old tried and true ways to save cash on books. It takes a little research and number crunching to determine which will be the best option for your college castaway. Here are five ways to save serious money on textbooks.

Hesitate

Don't buy a textbook before the class starts. I know this won't be the most popular advice in Academia, but I live in the real world. Wait to see if he really needs the textbook. There were many classes I never bought the book for because the professor based all of her tests off of notes and class discussions. When the opportunity came that I would need to do some research out of the book, I'd use the free copy in the reserve section in the library. Most professors offer this to their students — just be sure to tell your collegiate to get to the library early and not wait until the last minute if the need for the book is upcoming.

Share the Wealth (and the Cost)

Make friends and share books. This can be a tricky one, and usually works best if your student happens to take the same course as a roommate. Make sure the cost is split down the middle during the purchase and split the cash they get when they sell it. (Don't resell books to the bookstore. Try to get those books out on Amazon.com, first. You'll get a much higher return.)

Free Online Textbooks

For free downloadable books, try Flat World Knowledge. Copies of textbooks are free online (perfect for that new Kindle you just got your undergrad,) and only cost $30 to have them printed out and shipped to his door.

Rent Textbooks

With Course Smart, you can rent a textbook online for 180 days for about half the cost of purchasing the book. Textbook Revolt offers the same rental service, except the book is actually mailed to your student and then returned by him at the end of the semester.

Discounted Textbooks

Amazon.com offers used textbooks that are usually cheaper than the college bookstore. Also, half.com offers good deals on books. But these deals aren't comparable to free, of course.

Here's a breakdown in cost for a popular art history book:

Gardner's Art Through the Ages: A Global History

Amazon.com: $147.56
Amazon.com (used): $135.00
Half.com: $149.45
Course Smart (180 day rental online): $88.99
Textbook Revolt (125 day rental mailed): $74.74
Flat World: Unavailable

Discuss the options with your child. Maybe having a physical copy of the book is preferred over the online version. Take into consideration his learning styles as well, but at the end of the day, if the money isn't there, you've got to do what you've got to do to save a buck where you can. And with tuition not looking to decrease anytime in the near future, it looks like textbooks are the only variable rate items left.

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