If you missed me this morning on Martha Stewart Living radio, I talked about reducing overall expenses and deciding what is a “need” and what is a “want” item.
Absolute necessities – Send your student packing with basic toiletries like shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste. Basic bedding and clothes are necessities, as are a few notebooks, a pencil, and a pen.
Bedding – Use sheets and pillows you already have (no one sees them, anyway) but look for a sale on a new comforter or quilt to make everything feel new. If extra long sheets are needed, send your student to college with an extra flat sheet and they can fold the corners themselves. Or, head to Target for a $10 extra-long Jersey sheet set.
If you are worried about bedbugs, buy a mattress protector but skip a pricey mattress enhancer. If the bed is not comfortable, pick up a piece of egg crate foam, which is super cheap.
Computer – Wait to buy a computer until your student arrives at school and finds out if the college has specific computer requirements. Some schools, like Wake Forest in North Carolina, give each student a free computer and color printer/scanner/copier. Wow!
Textbooks – Your student can download a free eReader app to their smart phone or computer and find free copies of classics by Jane Austin and others in the public domain. Borders alone has more than 1 million free eBooks.
Buy used textbooks – and not just from the school bookstore but on Craigslist, eBay, and Amazon. Amazon offers students get a free Amazon Prime membership, which comes with free 2-day shipping. A Prime membership usually costs $79.
Rent a text book from Chegg.com, which has a 30-day “any reason” return policy. You’ll pay about 50-70% less than buying a book outright, and you don’t have to worry about selling your books at the end of the semester.
Try swapping for textbooks on sites like BookMooch.com, but don’t expect many textbooks.
Go digital by checking the distributor’s website to see if you can purchase an electronic copy of the textbook. They save on ink, paper, and transportation, so the cost goes down significantly. A friend once got a $115 economics textbook for $40. If you can bring it on your laptop to class, then you’re set.
Kitchen – Most frosh are on a meal plan, so they don’t need anything but perhaps a coffee maker (which every garage sale across America has). For students not on a meal plan, stock up on silverware, plates, cups, appliances at the nearest Goodwill for $15-$20.
Furniture – Are you kidding me? Dorms rooms are teeny tiny and students are required to keep in their room any furniture provided by the school.
Humidifier – Send a humidifier when temps drop (assuming your student lives in a cold, dry climate). It is hard to sleep in super dry conditions and lack of sleep may make them more prone to colds and missing class. (Just a hunch on that last one.)
Buy used – Avoid getting sucked into the mentality that everything has to be new. Going to college is a special experience, but spending a lot of money outfitting a dorm doesn’t make it so. Before you head to the store, raid the attic, go to garage sales, and search Craigslist.
Let them decide – Another strategy to save is to give your student a budget and let them prioritize what to buy. Putting them in charge – while still helping find deals to stretch their dollar – may well motivate them to become savvy shoppers and help them separate “needs” versus “wants.”
Shop the dollar stores – Your student is not going to cart a lot of this stuff home every summer so there is no point in spending money on items that don’t have a lone lifetime, like a plastic shower caddy.
Create rewards for luxuries – Reward student for good grades and similar achievements with luxuries they want, like a mini fridge if they earn straight A’s.
Use coupons – But of course! Check the retailer’s website for coupons before you shop and save the ones you receive in the mail. Make sure to get toiletries on sale and use a coupon whenever possible!
Remember, if a student really needs something s/he will keep asking for it!