Dorm Room Shopping Mistakes | College Ave


Sending a child to college isn’t cheap. After paying tuition, fees, room, board, and books, just one year at an in-state university can cost as much as a car. And that’s before you go shopping for their dorm room.

If you’re like us, you don’t have money to waste on items your student either doesn’t need or likely won’t use.

Have you ever noticed that most of the shopping guides with college dorm “essentials” are created by retailers? You know, the companies that are trying to sell you stuff.

Leafing through these curated guides, it’s easy to get sucked into thinking your student needs every item mentioned on the list-especially if it’s your first time setting up a dorm room.

We’ve learned a lot after sending five students to college (and another one this year!). We’re sharing some tips to help you shop wisely, understand which items will likely be a waste of money, and discover the one thing that is definitely worth the investment.

Before You Go Shopping

Before shopping, do some research on where your child will be living. Check out the dorm’s floorplan as well as any furniture and appliances the school will provide.

Many dorms have plenty of storage with the furnishings provided in the rooms. And smaller rooms might not have space for the drawer and shelf units those dorm shopping guides recommend.

We’ve also found that searching YouTube for tours of the actual dorm is very beneficial. These tours help you see how the rooms can be set up and what storage items have worked for other students.

Car trunk full with supplies

It’s also helpful to look into the bathroom situation beforehand. Will there be a hallway bathroom, or is it a shared, suite-style one? For hallway bathrooms, your child will need a good shower caddy to transport toiletries back and forth. Suite-style baths may require shower curtains, bath mats, toilet scrubbers, and plungers. Be sure to coordinate these purchases with suitemates to avoid having duplicates!

Our kids have all loved having a refrigerator and microwave in their rooms. Before renting or purchasing those items, find out whether the school provides them. You’ll also need to check any size, amps, and wattage requirements. Larger purchases like these can be split between roommates to share the expense.

7 Categories to Consider Before You Swipe Your Card

Decor: Help your child come up with decorative yet functional items to make this new place their own. Rather than spending money on useless novelty items, optimize their little space with things that can keep their busy lives organized.

Laundry items: Does your child iron or handwash anything they wear at home? If not, odds are they won’t use an iron, ironing board, or drying rack at school.

Family in dorm

Kitchen supplies: It’s unnecessary to spend money on plates, cups, utensils, or pots and pans. There’s really nowhere to wash them, and they can attract bugs when they sit too long.

Storage: Don’t purchase too many drawer units or shelves before move-in day, as it’s essential to be in the space first to get a sense of what kind of storage your child needs and can accommodate within their space. Remember, your student doesn’t need to pack all their clothes and shoes (All of our kids have said they wore much less than they brought).

Cleaning supplies: It’s unnecessary to provide your child with extensive cleaning supplies because, sadly, they won’t be used as often as you’d hope. Bring a handheld vacuum and a container of disinfecting wipes at move-in, which will probably last all year. Check if the dorm has vacuums, they can check out to clean their rooms before buying one.

School supplies: Have your child hold off on purchasing any school supplies until their first classes to see what the professor suggests. Even textbooks may change, so save your money and wait to buy them until classes begin.


Electronics: With the exception of personal laptops, we recommend students coordinate with their roommates about buying larger electronics for their dorm rooms. There likely won’t be room for more than one TV, so discussing this ahead of time may ultimately save families money and hassle. Similarly, students don’t have to have their own printers, as colleges provide them throughout campus; however, depending on your child’s major and study preferences, they may find that having their own printer is more efficient and cost-effective.

Always Worth the Money!

Investing in quality bedding is almost always a good idea. Dorm room mattresses tend to be pretty uncomfortable, so buying a foam topper or plush mattress pad can make a big difference and help your student get better sleep.

Student sitting on bed in dorm room

Resist the urge to buy everything in those guides before your child’s move-in day. Remember, after you’ve unpacked, you can always take a trip to the store to pick up anything extra once you know it’s needed.

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