It's financial crunch time as the start of fall semester draws near. But, college students heading back to school this fall can plan ahead now and save big on the cost of college. Follow these 10 smart ideas to save money before the first day of school so you can set aside extra cash for expenses and pay for tuition.
1. Buy Your Textbooks Now
Look at your syllabi for your fall classes now. Many will already be online, or you can reach out to your instructors and request a list of required books for each class. Once you know which books you will need this fall, "buy used textbooks or sell them (old ones) back to the bookstore at the end of the semester to save about half of textbook costs," said Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president and publisher of Edvisors.com, a site that helps students plan for college.
Also, check whether you really need to buy all the books on your list, Kantrowitz added. Some books can be found at the library, or maybe you can share one with a roommate or friend to help cut costs as well.
2. Shop Around for the Best Student Loan Rates
Taking out a student loan should not be a one-stop shopping trip. Instead, shop around for loans with the lowest interest rates and fees, advises FinAid.org. Also, student loan calculators can help you determine the real, long-term cost of a loan. On top of your own research, it doesn't hurt to see if your school has a financial aid or student loan advisor on staff who can help answer questions and guide you through the loan seeking process.
3. Make Meal Planning Go Further
College meal plans can cut a large chunk into your budget. If a meal plan is required for on-campus housing, research your meal plan offerings now and plan on selecting the smallest meal plan available. Purchasing your own groceries or cooking simple meals in your dormitory or apartment can help mitigate the cost of food, too. Additionally, you should start planning you're eating out budget now, said Kantrowitz.
"Purchasing a $10 pizza each week can cost $2,000 over the course of a four-year college career. Beverages from vending machines and specialty coffee houses can cost even more," he said. Instead of letting these seemingly small costs eat into your wallet, set aside a specific amount to spend on eating out each month of the school year, and stay within that budgeted amount.
4. Use Work-Study Programs to Help Cover Tuition
Work-study programs, on-campus jobs and internships are all ways to help bring in some cash while paying for college. Many of these opportunities are available on a part-time or limited hourly basis, allowing students to study full time while bringing in some money.
"Consider applying to be a resident advisor in the dormitories to save money on room and board or other jobs on campus that are friendly to students," said Leslie Tayne, financial attorney and debt specialist at Tayne Law Group , P.C. "A little extra money goes a long way when you want to go out with friends or splurge."
5. Switch to a Student Checking or Savings Account
Take advantage of your student status, and switch to a student checking or student savings account now. These accounts often offer perks to students such as no or low fees, mobile banking or interest income.
U.S. Bank offers student savings accounts with no monthly maintenance fees and no minimum opening deposit. As another example, Chase offers student checking accounts with no monthly service fees for up to five years while in college. Switching your account is simple and will help your pocketbook down the line. Every fee you do not pay adds up over the next four years.
6. Take on Side Jobs for Side Income Now
Offer to walk dogs, mow lawns or get a pizza delivery job now. These small jobs and side hustles can help you bank cash before the semester starts. Think about what skills you already have or what opportunities are in need.
Other summertime options include power-washing driveways, painting or babysitting. If you live in a larger metro area check out TaskRabbit.com to apply for gigs, or post an ad on Craigslist or Facebook. Tell your family and friends you are looking for work -- you never know what might turn up.
7. Get Rid of Your Car
This might sound shocking and painful, but if you really want to save money before school begins, "ditch the car," said Sarah Elliott, personal finance and credit expert for CreditRepair.com. "Campus life is filled with transportation options, from buses and trains to walkable areas. Ditch the cost of a car by taking advantage of these opportunities."
Selling your car means you will no longer be paying for car insurance or maintenance fees. You won't have to buy a parking pass each semester, and you won't be paying for gasoline on a weekly or monthly basis. Better yet -- when your friends want to take a road trip, you will be off the hook for driving.
8. Sell Your Stuff for Cash
Summer is the perfect time to have a garage sale and clean out your belongings before packing them for school in the fall. "Sell clothes, gadgets and gift cards -- selling unwanted and unused stuff is a great way to make cash, especially when you can get cash instantly," said Kendal Perez, savings expert for CouponSherpa.com.
Larger unwanted items can be sold via Craigslist.com or on eBay.com. Gadgets such as old smartphones and tablets can be sold online through NextWorth.com, Glyde.com or Gazelle.com, or dropped off at a nearby ecoATM, Perez added. And clothing you no longer wear can be sold to used clothing stores such as Plato's Closet or Clothes Mentor.
Lastly, if you have any gift cards collecting dust in your wallet, now is the time to get rid of them. Cards can be cashed in through websites such as GiftCardGranny.com. "You'll receive bids from reputable resellers for up to 92 percent cash back (average payback is between 70 and 75 percent of the card's value)," Perez said.
9. Take Advantage of Tax-Free Shopping Days
When it comes to shopping for the school supplies you actually will need, take advantage of tax-free shopping days offered now in some states. "Sales tax holidays exempts the sales tax charged on items like clothing, school supplies and backpacks under $100," said Paul Goebel of the University of North Texas Student Money Management Center.
Another tactic is to wait until after back-to-school sales end before making purchases. "Understand that there may be value for waiting after the peak shopping season," he added. "For school shopping, the peaks are in August and January. Buying after the rush can save you 50 to 70 percent sometimes."
10. Keep Decorating Costs Down
When it comes to spicing up your dorm room or apartment, consider taking advantage of garage sales and thrift stores, said Goebel. "These are good resources for finding quality items at affordable prices," he said. "There's still plenty of weekends between now and the start of the fall semester, and thrift stores typically have great clothing with little wear at a good price."
You can also visit Slickdeals, a site that offers money-saving deals and discounts, and create a Target college registry. That way, you can save 10 percent on bedding, bath and home purchases you might need for your dorm room.
Additionally, it's smart to communicate and plan ahead with your roommate(s) now. There isn't a need for two microwaves or two mini refrigerators in a shared dorm room or apartment.
Begin taking some of these money-saving steps today and you might be surprised by how much you will save before the semester starts this fall.
This article, 10 Ways College Students Can Save Money Before the First Day of School, originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.