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6 Ways to Save on Dorm Room Purchases

Sabah Karimi

The big move-in date is right around the corner, and you may still have shopping to do to get that dorm room in order. The average college student will spend over $915 on apparel, dorm furniture, school supplies, electronics and other essentials this year, according to the National Retail Federation's 2014 Back-to-College Survey of over 6,100 consumers.

If you're determined to keep that back-to-school spending budget to a minimum, but still need to pick out some furniture and decor for the dorm, then venture beyond the back-to-school sales at your favorite big-box retailer to meet your financial goals. Whether you're moving away from home for the first time or switching dorms this year, make sure you're stocking up on some budget-friendly basics that will last a few semesters.

Here are six ways to save on dorm room purchases:

1. Make a master list. Don't let retailers and advertisers influence your buying decisions when it comes to putting together that dorm room shopping list. Make a master list of must-haves and basics before you start perusing the weekly ads and checking out the inventory at your favorite stores. Add an estimated cost next to each item so you have an idea how much it will cost you to furnish that dorm -- and whether you can afford it. Making a master shopping list will help you prioritize those purchases, and may even ward off a few impulse buys as you fight your way through the back-to-school shopping crowds.

2. Invest in functional pieces. Storage cubes, tote boxes and even bookcases can double as tables and work spaces with a little creative positioning. Instead of buying multiple pieces of furniture that will barely squeeze into the small dorm space, think of ways to use storage pieces as furniture. Futons, sofa beds, bookshelves, coffee tables and furniture with hidden storage can create a functional living area and save space and money. Decorating these pieces with colorful fabric or other coverings can add a pop or color to the area and mask any imperfections or unattractive surfaces.

3. Hit the garage sales. Yard sales can be a treasure trove of items fit for a college student, but you will need to do some shopping around. Set aside a few weekends to shop the garage sales, and take the time to inspect furniture and accessories to ensure they will last at least one school year. Don't forget to put on your bargaining hat to negotiate a great deal -- you'll be surprised how many sellers are willing to haggle just to get the item off their hands.

4. Check out resale stores. Resale and used goods stores that specialize in furniture, decor and home accessories can provide a wealth of options for the budget-conscious college student. Whether you're in the market for a new desk, office chairs, bedroom furniture or a few shelves for the dorm, plan on checking out the inventory at Goodwill, The Salvation Army, Savers and other resale stores in the neighborhood.

5. Get crafty. Whether you're inspired by a Pinterest board or just have a knack for repurposing items, put together some decorations using basic materials and craft supplies to freshen up the dorm space. Repainting household furniture and making a few items using fabrics and other materials can help you create an attractive and unique living space. Wall hangings, table decor and even bedroom accents can be a few handmade or do-it-yourself projects to add to your to-do list this back-to- school season.

6. Don't forget eBay and online liquidation sales. Buying slightly used or refurbished items can save you a significant amount of money on college dorm room purchases and may be a wise investment for any college student on a tight budget. Take some time to browse eBay for some of the latest deals on electronics, new or used furnishings, and decor such as rugs and wall hangings. Online liquidation sales and outlet stores can also be a good source of items such as shelving, small tables and storage items. Look for free shipping offers and last-minute deals to save even more money on those dorm room purchases.

How Much College Students Will Spend on Back-to-School Shopping
Electronics (laptops, tables, smartphones, etc.) $243.79
Clothing and Accessories $138.73
Food $103.87
Dorm Furnishings $96.70
Personal Care Items $78.08
Shoes $77.60
School Supplies $74.80
Gift Cards $55.56
College-Branded Gear $47.36
Total Average Spending: $916.48
Source: The National Retail Federation's 2014 Back-to-College Survey

Sabah Karimi is a columnist for the blog Wise Bread, where you can find consumer tips like how to select the best balance transfer credit cards.

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