Families all over the country prepare for kids to leave for college each summer. Some of that preparation includes figuring out what is needed for the college dorm room, how to get it at the best price and how to get it to school. Military families often have special concerns, as kids may be going to school on an entirely different continent from mom and dad, and sometimes the family is mid-Permanent Change of Station (PCS) at the same time.
In 2019, the average college student spent $976.78 on supplies, including bedding, electronics, appliances, decor, food, clothes, toiletries and other back-to-school items. As the parent of a new freshman, that's a lot of money! Thankfully, there are ways to save money and still send your kid to college with the things they need.
Plan The Money Ahead Of Time
Start with a budget, and figure out who is going to pay for what. Are Mom and Dad going to foot the bill for a rug and underbed storage boxes, or is that up to the student? Once you know what you need, and who is going to pay for it, you can see if those expectations line up with the amount of money you have set aside, and adjust as necessary. If you can identify needs ahead of time, you might be able to get some of the items as high school graduation gifts.
Get Advice From Your School and Students
College want their students to be happy. Most college have a list of things that they recommend that you bring, and a list of things that you aren't allowed to bring.
Your school may offer certain items for student use. For example, my daughter's school provides a mini-fridge and microwave in each room. Whoohoo!
Inquire about bed sizes, whether mattress toppers are recommended, can beds be stacked or put on risers and double-check the rules for hanging things.
Ask in your school's student or parent Facebook group for advice, tips and things you might have forgotten. Questions that are good to ask are, “What do you regret bringing?” or “What is the one thing you wish you had packed?”
Pro tip: Be sure you understand the dorm's rules for decorating to avoid an expensive damage bill at move-out. 3M Command Strips, while awesome, can sometimes damage paint.
Know What You Need
Think through your needs: electronics, bedding, school supplies, storage, etc., and take into consideration what you have learned from your school. Reach out to your roommate(s) to divide up the items you do need to buy -- no dorm room needs three coffee pots, but you'll probably need a shower curtain.
Bedding can be tricky. Unfortunately, most dorms use Twin XL sheets, so you probably can't just borrow from your stash at home. Consider the cost-benefit of buying less expensive sheets at a local discounter or buying higher quality sheets that should last all four years. Your at-home blankets and pillows might be fine, or you might be able to shop the discount stores over the summer, or even wait until the back-to-college stuff goes on clearance in September.
Consider ordering items online and having them sent to the school address. They might not arrive on the day you desire, but it will be close enough. It will make the actual moving easier and you might even save a little money.
Put off purchasing non-essentials until after the school year has gotten started. Every school, dorm and room is different. Those bed risers purchased in August will be wasted if your student and their roommates decide to bunk their beds during the second week of school.
While you want your child to have something to eat if they miss dining hall hours, don't go overboard. You're paying for that meal plan. You want your student to want to eat in the dining hall, not be lured in by the instant macaroni and cheese available in their room.
Pro tip: Unless your child is really into ironing their clothes, skip the ironing board and iron. However, someone in the dorm will have an ironing board and iron for that one time your student really, really needs to iron something.
Maximize Your Savings
Whatever you buy, get the best price by using discount coupons and online shopping rebate sites.
Consider stocking up on school supplies and toiletries at summer sale and commissary prices before heading for school. This strategy works best if you're driving to college and there is storage space available.
Pro tip: if you're attending Parent's Weekend at some point in the fall, postpone some purchases until after your child has gotten settled. Bring a back-up stash of toiletries and other consumables then. If your student has a fall break, they can also do some shopping then.
College is expensive. Don't make it even more expensive by spending too much setting up the dorm room.
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