College today is expensive. There is no way around it. Parents and students both are working to finance the cost of college tuition and fees, piecing together financial aid through scholarships, grants and loans. Many students, and their parents, may be dismayed to think about the additional costs of outfitting the ideal college dorm room, yet all of the advertising and publicity tells them that this is essential.
Your college student will need to make some purchases to furnish their dorm room. Decorating that first “home away from home” is part of the college experience. However, there are some ways in which your student can pare down the costs of the decorating process. Here are a few suggestions to discuss with your student as you both prepare for Move-in Day.
Four important overall starting principles
- Find out what the school allows and doesn’t allow in dorm rooms before you do any planning or make a single purchase. Don’t buy a microwave only to discover that the room either comes with one or that the appliance is forbidden. Don’t bring large pieces of furniture only to find out that students may not bring additional furniture.
- Think organization. Dorm rooms are generally relatively small, and house more than one person. Anything that your student can bring to keep belongings, papers, books, etc. organized, will be appreciated by everyone in the space. Items that can do double duty will also be helpful.
- Your student should talk to their roommate before buying anything for the room. There isn’t enough space in either the typical dorm room or the typical college student budget for duplication. Encourage your student to consult with roommates about what each will bring for the room. Who will bring the fridge or TV or even the wastebasket? Coordinating efforts can significantly cut costs.
- Set up a realistic starting budget. It’s easy to get carried away thinking that your student needs everything. As parents, we want to create a cozy nest for our students and it’s easy to feel we need to buy all of the comforts we can think of. Work with your student to decide on a spending limit and try to stick to that.
Some saving suggestions
- When in doubt, less is more. If your student isn’t sure they’ll need something, leave it at home. There will be opportunities to add more later as the need arises. If your student comes home for a weekend later, that’s the time to bring something back. If you’ll be visiting for Parents’ Weekend, you can bring something. Thanksgiving Break or Winter Break are good opportunities to add to room furnishings, if necessary.
- Rather than buy furnishings and decorations initially, give your student gift cards to be used at local stores. Your student can make purchases through that first semester as they discover what is needed. Roommates can shop and make choices together.
- Plan to shop locally on Move-in Day after you’ve seen the actual room. Once your student sees the space, they’ll be better able to visualize needs. Find out about the closest stores prior to heading to school.
- Encourage your student to be creative. Storage cubes can become bedside tables. Scarves or fabric remnants can become curtains. Bricks and planks make just as interesting a bookcase as they did for earlier generations of students.
- If your student is at all crafty, encourage them to create things for the room. They will give it a distinctive sense of style to set it apart from all of the other “store bought” accessories in other rooms.
- Help your student look around home for things that can be used rather than buying new. Can they take their current desk lamp since they won’t be studying at home and need it there? Are there throw pillows, rugs, comforters, kitchen utensils, wastebaskets, hangers, etc. that can be spared? Taking some items from home will not only save money, but will give your student that comfortable feeling of the familiar.
- You student might want to explore second hand stores or yard sales in the neighborhood of the college throughout the fall. This can be an interesting way to spend some weekend time while away at school and a great lesson in adventure shopping.
Once you and your student begin to think creatively about room furnishings, you may both find that you not only save money, but your student has a room that expresses a unique sense of style and comfort. Your student and your budget will both be happier.