Summer is about to begin and all you can think about is fun in the sun; and leaving home for the first time to attend college. It’s an exciting moment in your life, and an easy time to get carried away between managing your own time and money. One of my favorite experiences before I left for school was shopping for my new dorm room. I had lofty aspirations of what I wanted—and then realized the high price tag that matched my dreams. Then I found there were ways to create a dream dorm room on a budget. One key element is to remember what you need versus what you want, while keeping in mind what is possible.
Before you decide anything—colors, style, etc.—find out what is supplied to you by the school. Many dorm rooms come equipped with beds, mattresses, desks, chairs, and dressers which eliminates the need for you to buy and bring your own. It’s smarter to save that student loan money to buy items you will need. Also, find out if your dorm offers any cleaning services. Many universities don’t want their dorms getting too dirty. Mine vacuumed and cleaned the bathrooms weekly which eliminated the need for me to buy a vacuum cleaner—more money left in my pocket!
Find out what you are permitted to have in your dorm room; I wasn’t allowed to have a toaster oven . Obviously, buying things you aren’t allowed to have is a waste of time and money, so be sure to check. Also find out the texture of the walls. This will determine what type of decorations you can buy—remember: you can’t hammer into concrete walls; two-way tape may be your new best friend.
Make a list of all the essential items you need to bring with you. Household stores like Bed Bath and Beyond have ones to help you on their websites, but don’t take them too literally; there may be items on their checklists you can remove to save money or aren’t allowed to have. After you create your list, cross out the things you already own or received as gifts. There’s no need for duplicates. Great student tip: Try making your list in excel. It will give you great practice for your intro to computers class!
Now that the boring stuff is out of the way, it’s time to get creative. Let me offer you my advice for creating your dream dorm room on a budget:
- Finding ways to add your personal touch in your dorm room can save money AND impress new friends with your unique pieces. Start simple—instead of buying an expensive cork or message board for above your desk, buy a plain one and some paint from an art store or a store like Wal-Mart (puff paint or acrylic paint works best and is the most economical!). Use your artistic skills to create your own design, add your name and anything else you can come up with.
- Get creative with your small storage spaces. Use plastic under-bed boxes for storing extra clothes, and small plastic drawers for extra desk supplies. Clutter creates stress and that’s the last thing you’ll want when classes begin. An over-the-door shoe holder was a great asset a friend suggested to me to organize my bathroom items like hair dryers, hair products, etc. It kept things off the floor and the bathroom counter making everything look cleaner and more organized.
- Most dorm rooms use Extra-Long Twin beds, but check with your school before you buy any bedding. The easiest way to get the bedding you need is to purchase a bed-in-a-bag. This will come with a comforter, shams, and a matching sheet set. Don’t go crazy buying every sheet set that matches your décor. You only need two (one on the bed while the other is in the laundry). Not only is it a waste of money, but a waste of valuable dorm room space for storage! Wait until you get to your dorm room before you purchase a mattress pad or a featherbed. Depending on the age of the mattress you are given you may not need one. More money in your pocket—cha ching!
- Buying artwork to decorate your dorm walls can get pricey, not to mention the difficulty of hanging things on the wall depending on the wall materials. Buy inexpensive frames and make collages from pictures of friends and family. Not only will this make your walls less empty, but they are a great reminder of the support that got you to college in the first place.
- When shopping for items for your dorm room, whether large or small, remember do your homework; after all, you’re used to it! Don’t do all of your shopping in one store simply out of convenience. When you find a product you like, search for the same item online. You may be able to find it at a discounted price. One of my favorite sites for just about anything you could need for a dorm room is Overstock.com. With minimal or no shipping rates (they occasionally run free shipping offers; if not it’s only up to $2.95) it makes it easy to get the stuff you want all delivered together.
Decorating your new dorm room doesn’t have to suck up all of your graduation or hard earned money. Start your college financial experience off right and still enjoy your new living space. It is possible!
The following is a guest post from Anessa Gross, a Certified Personal Finance Counselor who works for Consolidated Credit Counseling Services in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Their non-profit agency helps families through financial crisis using credit counseling, debt consolidation and financial education.