Let's face it, attending a college or university can get pretty expensive. Not only do you need the traditional school supplies and hygienic personal items, but you also don't want your dorm to be impersonal, either. Add in the cost of your tuition and paying for your course books alone and the price can come close to breaking the bank. And when it comes to getting your school supplies and things for your dorm, the dollar signs may start to multiply before your eyes.
So, drawing from my own experiences of running from store to store, comparing prices to get the best bang for my buck I hope this advice helps Fresh U readers save a bit of money. From the places you shop to the brands you buy, comparing prices can end up being a lifesaver when you have a small budget to stick to. Here are four places to get your gear cheap.
1. Dollar Stores
Not only can you get most of your common first aid supplies at places like Dollar Tree or Family Dollar, but they also have other college essentials, like trash bags and air fresheners. No one wants a stinky room, after all. Among other things that you can get here are dish soap and sponges to wash all things Tupperware, as well as plastic baggies and some cheap school supplies such as pens and pencils. The best thing about shopping here for the little things is that everything only costs a dollar!
2. Five Below
The good thing about hitting up Five Below for some of your college gear is that everything it literally five dollars or less! It makes for some cheap decor and storage pieces. From a hanging closet organizer for $5 to $2 picture hangers for your wall, the things you get from here are cheaper than if you get them from Target. Picking up a water bottle while you're there wouldn't be a bad idea either, because walking across campus for your classes means you need to keep yourself hydrated!
3. Ollie's Bargain Outlet
Dorm rooms are small, dark and often droll. They're plain uniform canvases just waiting for you to put your mark on. But decorating your dorm room comes at a price that can add up quickly. And adding in your sometimes expensive school supplies, it's your bank account and your parents' credit cards that end up taking the brunt of the spending. Getting a colorful three foot by five foot area rug for under $5 can go a long way to brightening up your dorm space. I would personally recommend getting the majority of your school supplies from an Ollie's near you. Desk organizers, bulletin and messages boards just scrape the top of the list. Shower caddies and laundry baskets for under $6 as well as sheets and bed spreads galore can be found here as well.
And finally, last but not the least by far, is my favorite place to shop. At Gabe's, you don't have to look far for great sales. If there's something you saw there that you really liked but was too expensive to get at the time, you can be sure that in a week or two, it will find itself with a down marked price on a clearance rack. Personally, I got my own bed spread and a few decor pillows from Gabe's and more than half of my clothes have been bought there as well. If you are on a tight budget and don't want to spend upwards of $80 on a cool bedspread, I would recommend that you check them out from time to time. They get new things in weekly!
When To Start Your Shopping
Now when it comes to smart shopping, just knowing the best places to shop if you want to save yourself a little money isn't enough. You also need to know when to start shopping. I personally started shopping the beginning of my senior year, and it helped keep me motivated to finish high school and go to college. Seeing my future dorm room bedspread in the corner of my room kept me grounded in my studies. I firmly believe that it's never too early to start picking things up for college, especially when you are on a tight budget.
Don't just drop $400 to $800 the month before college starts. You have tuition and books to pay for, after all. Plus, I'm sure you will be wanting some spending money for the school year as well. So my advice is to scrunch your money where you can and remember that every penny you can save counts. Only buy a few things you need a month, and space your purchases out so it doesn't strain your wallet. For more expensive things like your microwave and mini fridge, look at the money you have and your income each month, and choose one of the months that your wallet has a bit more leeway with spending to go and get those. Depending on if you have a roommate, one of you could get one item and the other person could get another.
If you have a close friend or a family member, or if you know anyone else who gets discounts for working at a store like Walmart, ask if you can use their employee perks! Any embarrassment you may feel for asking won't matter when it's compared to the money you can and will save farther down the line. Also, keep an eye out for any sales your favorite shopping spots might be having, and when it comes to using coupons, use them like they are going out of style.
A DIY project that won't break the bank.
Dorm rooms are small, so obviously they won't offer a lot of storage space. I know you've probably already went and surfed the internet looking for dorm decorating ideas that won't leave your wallet looking like a ghost town. Maybe you went on Pinterest and fell in love with the wooden crates turned storage solution, or saw them in a dorm tour Youtube video. But then you went online or into a store and saw they cost $10 or more and weren't as sturdy as you would like. If that seemed oddly specific, just know that I too, fell in love with the idea and then fell right out of love with it when I realized it would cost me nearly $60 to do what I wanted with them. Needless to say, I went looking for a cheaper alternative. And I found one: spray painted milk crates.
Presenting the before and after of ordinary milk crates. When I bought these, Menards had been having a sale and they were priced for $4.99. Their price has gone back up to $5.99, but it is still a cheaper option. My roommate and I weren't overly fond of the black color going into what was already going to be a small, dark dorm room, so instead, I price-checked several stores for the cheapest spray paint that would work well with a plastic surface. Walmart won out over all and we both decided to go with a metallic silver to give our room a pop of color and shine. In the meantime, the four now painted crates are holding the rest of my college gear to make carrying everything on move-in day easier. You can stack them on their sides for cube shelves using zip ties to make sure they do not shift, or create a cushion to put on top of them to make convenient little storage ready seats for when your friends drop by your room for a chat.
Now, I know that many Fresh U readers may not have some of these stores near to you, but a quick look online can give you similar ones. Sticking to discount stores and clearance racks is nothing to be ashamed of when you are in the game to save money. Most likely, no one will be able to tell that you didn't shop at a more expensive store for your college gear. If you're concerned about money, here's some news for you: Almost every college student has some sort of struggle with money by the time they graduate. So don't shed your bucks at big department stores, and hit up those local dollar stores instead. You might be surprised at the deals you can find and the money you save. Always remember that every penny you can save whilst shopping for this next step in your life counts.
Don't forget to also hit up all the thrift stores in a college town close to you. You might not only find a cute vintage top but many also have used but still working appliances, small rugs and decor vases that can easily hold pens and pencils or just other things that previous college students didn't want to lug home with them. Shop around and scope out different stores to find the best deal and I'm positive it will save you some hard earned cash in the long run.
Lead Image Credit: Unsplash