Furnish Your Dorm — Without Breaking the Bank

by Vincent King · 2 comments

The end of July signals the end of an era: you’ll no longer be a kid living at home with Mom and Dad. As August peeks through amber sunsets, you and your best friend lay out, poolside, wincing at the onslaught of college preparations.

College excitement often means furnishing a new place to live for the first time. As amazing as that feeling is, it’s equally overwhelming knowing that you have to buy bedding, decorations, and everything else that you’ll need to live a life on your own.

Starting a new school is nerve-racking enough. With classes to attend, a new environment to adjust to, and often no friends to go with you, shopping to start your first living space on your own can blow your mind. And trying to stay in your budget makes it almost impossible, since the only things you can afford right now are towels and socks.

Check out your future digs before you do anything, so you’ll know exactly what you’ll need to provide. For example, your dorm may provide a bed, mattress, and desk. Many schools have a list of “what to bring” posted somewhere on their website or on campus.

If possible, talk to people who’ve lived there and see if there’s anything they suggest bringing that may not be on the school’s list.

7 Steps to Furnishing Your Dorm on a Budget

Don’t despair. There are ways to get what you need and stay within a budget tighter than Lady Gaga’s bustier.

1. Make a plan.

Figure out exactly what you’ll need and make a list. Once finished, go through and give everything special consideration. Do you really need three different kinds of lotions? Do you need a rice cooker and a pot? How can you condense your list so that you’re using less “stuff” and, therefore, have less to buy?

2. Shop at Mom’s.

You know your mom has LOADS of stuff you need, so before paying for anything, check her linen closet, junk drawers, and kitchen cabinets for essentials. She can save you tons, and she’ll usually end up with new stuff in place of it — so she wins, too.

3. Freecycle.

Check out Freecycle.org for things you need that you don’t find at Mom’s. Freecycle offers loads of stuff that people are getting rid of for free. You’ll find lighting, curtains, and just about anything you need. There are usually pictures of the stuff being given away. If not, don’t bother; you’ll find you have to throw it away yourself.

4. Be thrifty.

Learn to shop at thrift stores and consignment shops. When you’re on a budget, these are places to get great deals on necessities like unique decorations for the walls, used furniture, and kitchen utensils.

5. Try Craigslist, Ebay, and Oodle.

If you can’t find what you need at the thrift shops or Freecycle, try sites like these. They’re like online garage sales. Make sure you can check out the items before you pay for them.

6. Make some sacrifices.

If you don’t NEED it, as in you can live without it, then you don’t buy it. That’s a sure-fire way to save money.

7. Hint to (or flat out tell) your mom that you’d love to have a “Going Off to College Shower.”

Create a registry at Target or Walmart and list it on the invitations. Some may look down on this, because it’s a bit out of the ordinary, but once upon a time, we balked at kindergarten graduations, too. Soon you’ll be cementing a new tradition for incoming freshmen just like you!

Whether you need a little or a lot, shopping around for the best deals will make you among the smartest frugal freshmen on campus.

How did you furnish your dorm on the cheap? 

Editor's Note: Did you know about the service called $5 meal plans? For $5 a month, they send you recipes of delicious, healthy, yet cheap food that costs just $5 a meal.

Several of my friends signed up and they are able to eat at home more because the instructions are easy to follow, making everything convenient. The deal also comes with grocery shopping lists, which saves them so much time. Check it out yourself by clicking here and you too may be able to save more and become healthier at the same time.

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  • Ruth Cooke says:

    I’m a mother to two former students who both went to college out of town. I also am not well-off myself, and have paid nothing or next to nothing for furniture and housewares most of my adult life. All of the above tips are great, though if you’re like me, the number of friends and family members who will participate in a “Going off to college shower” is nil to none, but I have a couple of extra tips that might help.

    Don’t forget to check and see what your future roommates already have. Most college students share accommodations with others, and you don’t want to end up with three sofas, especially if you actually shelled out cash for any of them.

    If you belong to a church, try asking around or putting a notice in the bulletin. This is especially effective if you have a lot of elderly people in your congregation.

    Also, scout the area in which you’ll be residing during the usual move-out period for your college. A lot of relatively decent stuff (along with a lot of junk) gets left on the curb.

    Above all, adapt a minimalist approach and don’t buy lots of new (or even used) stuff! I know it’s hard, but you’ll be moving out of that place in three or four years, and you don’t know yet where you’re going. The less stuff you have, the less stuff you’ll have to move, get rid of, or store.

  • Michelle says:

    This is a great list! I never lived in a dorm, but I would definitely be shopping sales and looking to see what exactly I need.

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