4 Tips to Furnish a Dorm Room on a Budget

Next month thousands of parents will pack their cars with all the items their children need to furnish a dorm room. They’ll tearfully say goodbye as their first (or second, or third…) child leaves home. If you are one of those parents, make sure you’re shedding tears because you will miss your child, not because you ran up your credit card buying expensive stuff for his first dorm or apartment! Follow these steps to save money, while making sure your child has what he needs at his home away from home.

dorm room

Shop Craigslist and Yard Sales

The first place to look for dorm supplies is craigslist and yard sales. Lots of times, college students only live in dorms for 1-2 years before moving off campus. When they move off campus, they have no need for extra-long sheets and dorm sized refrigerators.

You can find great deals on these items at yard sales and on Craigslist, especially if you happen to live near a college campus. Students who know they won’t be living in dorms next year would rather sell their stuff than haul it all back home.

Yard sales are also a great place to find pots, pans, and kitchen utensils. You’ll probably find better quality items than the stuff in big box stores marketed to college students, too.

Coordinate with Roommates

If your college student is sharing a dorm room, hopefully he’ll have his roommate’s contact information before school starts. When it comes to expensive equipment, such as a refrigerator and a stereo, a dorm room really only needs one of each.

Now is not the time for your student to be shy. Have him call his roommate to be. Figure out what your child already owns and what his roommate owns, and perhaps you can make a plan to split some of the purchasing responsibilities between the students. After all, dorm rooms are small, and there’s no need to have two of everything taking up space.

Ask for Help

In the months before your child heads off to college, casually mention to co-workers, fellow church members, and other friends that your child is looking to furnish a dorm room or apartment on a budget. You’d be surprised at how much people want to help.

You may get a lot of offers for things your student can’t use, but you may just pick up some useful items, too. When my husband and I were moving into student housing, we just happened to mention it to a friend, who then hooked us up with another friend who needed to get rid of things. We inherited a couch, a love seat, and a microwave at no cost. They weren’t the most beautiful items in the world, but for broke college students, they worked.

Do Without

Finally, figure out what your student really needs. She might want a high end stereo system, a state of the art laptop, and an expensive memory foam mattress topper. She may not need them, though. An in-dorm refrigerator is convenient, but find out if the dorm has a common area with a refrigerator where your student can store snacks. A personal television is nice, but again, is there one in the common area?

Buy the necessities first. If your student wants more after the necessities are purchased, evaluate your budget. If they’re in the budget, by all means, purchase them. If not, tell your student to save his money and purchase the item himself. He’ll appreciate it more. Or he’ll decide he doesn’t need it after all.

Heading off to college is an expensive endeavor, no matter how you slice it. Saving money any way you can is a smart move, and furnishing a dorm room is an easy way to save money during those first few expensive college months.

If you have a college student, what items are necessary for the dorm? Have you purchased anything that you thought was necessary, but later regretted?

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.


By , on Jul 13, 2012
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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{One Comment}

  1. I hung around the university as staff long after I graduated. Those rooms are tiny. Hotel rooms are often bigger. The basics are usually provided: bed, desk and chair, dresser, trash can, and closet with hanging rod.

    Don’t buy the extra-long sheets unless you have an extra-long student. Virtually no college is paying to equip every dorm with XL mattresses in every bed. Usually there are a few per floor. If you have a standard-size student who happens to get a long mattress, they can trade their mattress with someone taller or buy the XL fitted sheet then.

    Mini-fridge and microwave are really convenient (and lower the chances of food theft which is a reality of most common storage), but they’re not worth the investment if you’re not staying in the dorms for more than a year. Some schools rent these, but it’s worth checking to see if buying and reselling isn’t a better value.

    For the first month of college, it’s almost better to approach a dorm room with the minimalist stance of a hotel room where you can hang posters. You can always add stuff as you need it. The more stuff you have at school, the more management it requires (and the more risk you assume- things get lost, broken, and stolen).

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