As your child prepares to head off to college this fall, you probably want to send all of the comforts of home. After making that first tuition payment, though, your budget is likely stretched tight. The last thing you want or need is a hefty dorm room decor shopping bill.
Fortunately, with a little creativity and pre-planning, you can outfit a dorm room without breaking the bank. Try these money-saving tips for furnishing your child’s home away from home.
Start with a list and a budget
Before skewing your idea of what is really necessary by reviewing the many ads circulating at this time of year or the list of dorm “must-haves” sent by the college, write down all of the basics that your student will need, such as bedding, toiletries, task lighting and storage items.
Once you have a list of what is truly necessary, you can estimate how much the basics will cost. From there add another 10% to 20% for extras.
Check with the school and your child’s roommates before doing any shopping. Many college dorm rooms come with items like mirrors, chairs, desks and shelving, so you don’t need to buy them. And roommates may be bringing items that can be shared by everyone, such as a mini-fridge, microwave or area rug.
Look for used items
Search online for giveaways and inexpensively priced furnishings like lamps, fridges, microwaves, bookcases and chairs. Not paying retail for such items can add up to big savings. Some colleges also feature a recycling facility or allow students to post items for sale or giveaway at a designated location on campus.
Recycle what you already own
Search your basement, attic and even your child’s bedroom for items that can be taken to college. While you don’t want to send irreplaceable treasures, it can pay off to send things like alarm clocks and to use packed away small furniture, like end tables and bookshelves.
Purchase budget towels and bedding
College life is hard on items like sheets, towels, blankets and comforters, so avoid buying top-of-the-line in this area. Instead, choose low- to mid-priced linens, which are likely to hold up but not cost you a bundle. Linens tend to periodically go on sale, so keep your eyes open and stock up.
Your soon-to-be college student will likely want to make a mark in the dorm room. Decorate on a dime and help prevent homesickness by hanging pictures from painted clothespins and attaching them to the walls, or create a collage out of photos. Affix lightweight items to walls by using a putty-type adhesive that won’t do any damage, as most schools have restrictions on the use of nails in dorm rooms.
Choose plastic storage
The most inexpensive way to add quick and easy storage options to the dorm room is with plastic storage bins, which come in myriad shapes and sizes. There are cabinets with drawers on wheels, interlocking units and bins slim enough to slide under a dorm room bed or small enough to fit in a cupboard. Plastic storage containers also come in a wide variety of color options, making decorating easier.
Hang budget-friendly window coverings
Some colleges don’t supply window coverings, but this is no time to spend what you would at home. Temporary shades or inexpensive curtains will do the job just fine and cost much less than standard window coverings.
Will your child actually use a lap desk? Just because it sounds like something that would be handy in a dorm room doesn’t mean that it will get used. If your kid currently does homework in bed without a lap desk, save your money and the irritation you’ll experience on a visit when you find the lap desk stuffed away and gathering dust. Buy only those supplies you know your child will actually use.
Use these tips to save a bundle on dorm room furnishings, and you can spend the savings for visits home.
Julie Bawden-Davis is a staff writer for SuperMoney. Her mission is to help fight your evil debt blob and get your personal finances in tip top shape.
Copyright © 2013 Julie Bawden-Davis
Julie Bawden-Davis is a widely published journalist specializing in personal finance and small business. She has written 10 books and more than 2,500 articles for a wide variety of national and international publications, including Parade.com, where she has a weekly column. In addition to contributing to SuperMoney, her work has appeared in publications such as American Express OPEN Forum, The Hartford and Forbes.