While most families think of backpacks, crayons and Kleenex when they think of heading back to school, there are young adults all across the country packing up to leave home for the first time. Making the move to dorm life is a rite of passage every fall. This is one life event, however, that doesn't have to make a major impact on the family finances.
Creating a living environment in a dorm room that feels like home and reflects the personalities of the occupants takes smarts more than cash. Check out these tips to help you create the perfect dorm room on a dime.
Make a List
Discovering your student needs a bunch of things after move-in day is the quickest way to drain your bank account. Instead, take the time to think through everything before you start shopping. Most campuses provide only the very basics: desk, chair, bed, mattress, drawers and closet space. Everything from the bare walls on out will be up to you. The university housing department list is a good place to start, but consider checking it against the dorm room essentials lists created by retailers, which tend to be more detailed.
The earlier you finalize that list, the sooner you can start shopping for the best deals. Time is the list's best companion. Identify the items your student really wants and then watch for the sales. The closer you get to the move-in date, the more pressure you'll feel to get the list checked off no matter the prices.
Avoid Banned Items
The best way to save is not to spend at all. The rules vary from campus to campus, but there are lots of items your students will not be allowed to have in the dorm room. Potential fire hazards like coffee pots, toaster ovens and potpourri warmers are usually big no-no's in resident halls. Anything that could pose a safety threat will be confiscated. Double-check the school's list of banned items, and cross them off the wish list quickly. There's nothing like the feeling of checking off items for free.
Shop at Home
Before you make that first trip to the stores, go through all of the things you already own. Most likely you can simply pack up the things your student needs from their own bedroom at home. Common items that you probably already have are hangers, a laundry basket, desk lamps and decorations. The more familiar things your student brings from home the easier the transition into campus life will be. Nothing chases the homesick blues away like a favorite blanket, pillow or stuffed animal from home.
If your student really wants to make a statement in the dorm room, consider avoiding the pre-packaged, color-coordinated dorm room sets in the retail stores. You are more likely to find unique and one of a kind options by scouring the thrift stores. Sometimes you can find items still in the packaging for a fraction of the retail cost. Don't forget flea markets and garage sales for gently-used items.
Stack the savings of seasonal sales with the use of discounted gift cards, online coupon codes and cash back bonuses from your credit card. Sign up for email alerts from your favorite retailers to get loyalty discounts beyond the advertised sales. Shop online to save time and gas as you trek from store to store.
There are several things that college roommates can share. The expenses for small approved appliances, the iron and ironing board, or things like fans, humidifiers and air purifiers that make the room more comfortable can be split up between roommates, as long as everyone is on board. Coordinate with the assigned roommate in advance to be sure you aren't doubling up on items and make arrangements to split the cost of big ticket items. Shopping for the dorm room together is also a great way to break the ice for new roommates.
Making that first step into adulthood is a big thing for most college students. Moving away from home with a bunch of new stuff is fun at first, but the time spent shopping and gathering favorite things from home will be appreciated on those first lonely nights.
Michelle Stinson Ross is the social marketing manager at Offers.com. She's a working mother of three teens and a digital diva who loves a great deal.
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