Going Back to College? Here’s What’s Truly Essential for Your Dorm

by Jessica Sommerfield · 2 comments


Back-to-college shopping can get expensive. Besides tuition and books, there’s clothing, class supplies, and — of course — dorm essentials. The National Retail Federation’s Back to College survey reports that this year students (or their parents) will spend an average of $969.88 for dorm furnishings and college supplies. Of this spending, the top four categories are projected to be electronics, clothing, snacks and food items, and furnishings.

While this might seem like a small dent compared to the cost of tuition and housing, it can take a significant chunk out of a student’s savings or, worse, end up on a credit card. The question, then, is how many of these ‘essentials’ are necessary? Regardless of how convincingly retailers market their back to college lists and attractively arrange their mock dorm showrooms, it’s doubtful students really need all of that.

Based on feedback from students and parents who have learned the hard way, here are a few things you do and don’t need as you start getting ready to go back to college.

1. Furniture and Appliances: Be Picky

It sounds plausible that students without full access to a kitchen would want their own microwave, toaster, or mini-fridge, but students often find that these are either redundant (many dorms have a common area that includes these appliances), take up too much space, or don’t get utilized much. Go light on the kitchen appliances, especially if you or your student is on a meal plan. On the other hand, appliances like small fans might be useful (and don’t cost much).

Colleges usually supply basic furniture, but if you need to fill in a few gaps, bring items from home or shop second-hand and don’t be afraid to go cheap. After all, you’re shopping for items that will probably only get used a maximum of four years. The one furniture item many students recommend spending a little more on is your bed. Between sleeping and studying, a mattress pad and comfortable blankets and pillows will pay for themselves.

2. Personalize, But Don’t Deck It Out

Another category that eats over $100 of that survey average is dorm décor. It can be easy to get carried away with making a new space into a personal statement, especially if you enjoy decorating. Remember: it’s only temporary. Spending money on how your room looks isn’t something you’ll look back on as a good investment in your education.

On the other hand, saving money doesn’t mean you need to settle for a spartan, outdated dorm room. Put up a picture board, bring some personal items from home, hit the thrift shops, and choose décor items that are also functional (like a cushioned footstool that doubles as storage).

3. Don’t Forget Practical Things Like…

If you’re too focused on a dorm room aesthetics, you might forget to save some cash for practical items – the things that come in handy when your home consists of a tiny room shared with another person. For instance, things like adhesive hooks and non-mounted shelves for storage, power strips with USB plug-ins for those scarce outlets, and a sewing kit for missing buttons or small tears are all practical things nearly everyone will find useful. They also happen to be inexpensive.

4. Start Simple and Buy for Your Needs

Despite the lure of sales and beating the long lines at the local department stores on move-in weekend (remember, there’s always online shopping with direct delivery), the best overall strategy for shopping for college dorm supplies is to wait until you’re settled in. It’s better to start with less than you need and shop for specific items than to over-anticipate your needs and be wasteful.

Are you or your child going back to college this year? What have you discovered to be truly essential?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Education is actually becoming more and more expensive especially with private institutions trying to maximize their profits. No wonder student loans now stands above $1 trillion with many students finding it difficult to repay. While it can be a good thing to obtain student loans, you can actually reduce it by employing the methods I listed on my blog

  • It still pays to be a minimalist. Buy only the essentials and save more for groceries and emergency situations.

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