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5 ways to cut dorm costs

Sienna Kossman

Between designer bedding bundles and “personal dorm room stylist” appointments, shopping for a college dorm room can get unnecessarily expensive these days.

My dorm room was filled with cheap Wal-Mart bedding, milk crate storage boxes and a TV that weighed more than my desk — clearly no retailer-selected “dorm essentials” or personal stylists were involved.

According to a report from the National Retail Federation, college-bound millennials have upped the ante on how much they (or, more likely, their parents) will be paying to decorate their dorm rooms, “spending more this year on matching bed sets, curtains, bath linens and other home goods than any previous year.”

More than half (51.3 percent) of college shoppers will purchase dorm or apartment furnishings and spend an average of $126.30, up 30 percent from $96.70 last year, according to the survey. This is the highest average for this back-to-school expense category since the NRF began tracking it in 2007.

I’d credit Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram for feeding this dorm room decorating frenzy. After all, there’s nothing like a little social media pressure to make you want a small, cinder block-walled room to look like a snapshot from a Pottery Barn catalog.

While it’s important to make your dorm room comfortable, there’s no need to break the bank before school even starts. College is expensive enough. Here are five things you (or your parents) don’t need to buy for a dorm room, especially if you’re on a tight budget:

1. All the appliances.

A mini-fridge and coffee pot may be college essentials, but before you buy every small appliance you think you need, check to see if your dorm comes with appliances in-room already or offers a rental program for the school year.

If it’s up to you to supply the appliances, split the cost with your roommate by dividing the purchases. For example, one person supplies the fridge and the other a microwave and a coffee pot. But before you buy anything, make sure you know what your school allows in-room. I can tell you from experience that toasters are often forbidden.

Remember, appliances don’t have to be brand-new, they just have to work. The old microwave your parents put in the basement after they bought a new one Black Friday will do just fine.

2. Matchy-matchy EVERYTHING.

I knew some students my freshman year who planned with their roommates to buy the exact same things in coordinating colors so everything matched. Sure, their rooms looked like they belonged on a Pinterest board, but was it necessary to go to that extreme? I don’t think so.

Instead of splurging on every single item in matching dorm room showcases, like those advertised by Bed, Bath & Beyond and Pottery Barn Teen, go to discount retailers such as Ross or TJMaxx and look for similar items for much cheaper. Mixing and matching less expensive items can be just as stylish as buying a pre-designed look.

There’s no need to spend more than $800 on Kate Spade dorm decor. Ever.

3. Top-notch electronics.

Having all the gadgets might make you the hall’s cool kid, but it also puts more responsibility on your shoulders. People come and go from dorms all day and even though your roommate’s nice, he or she is still a stranger, as are all the other people around you. The more expensive electronics you have, the higher the theft risk and sometimes things happen. They never did catch the iPod thief that struck my dorm hall sophomore year.

4. Knickknacks and throw pillows.

Faux fur pillows and plant terrariums may emulate the trendy pictures on Tumblr, but aren’t always practical when trying to fit a life (plus a roommate’s) in a 12-foot-by-10-foot space.

Small decorative items and a surplus of throw pillows and blankets can make a space feel homey, but in reality, dorm storage space is limited. Unless you know there’s a place to store that cute ceramic owl, keep it out of the shopping cart. In my experience, a less cluttered dorm actually feels more welcoming because you don’t feel quite as claustrophobic.

5. Full set of dishes and silverware.

While you’ll be eating in a dorm room, you won’t really be cooking unless your dorm has a kitchenette or shared kitchen. A bowl and a fork are all you need to make some Ramen.

When I went dorm shopping before my freshman year, I bought a set of plastic plates, bowls, cups and then a bunch of cheap silverware. While it offered convenience, I typically used my water bottle and ate at the dining hall for nearly every meal. Most of my snacks didn’t require a fork so I had this pile of purple (sometimes dirty) plastic stuff taking up space in my room.

Save yourself money — and stinky dirty dishes — and buy paper plates and bowls you can toss when late-night snacking is over.

It’s OK to make your dorm room a home away from home, but keep it simple. No one will care if your room doesn’t match your Instagram theme.

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