If you’ve been reading along, you’ve already seen my earlier post on saving money for school-aged students. But there’s another group that really needs to stretch their funds: college students. (Or their longsuffering parents.)
Having gone through the process twice (two daughters), as well as for ourselves, Husband and I have had some experience in this area. But there’s plenty of advice elsewhere, too. Here’s some of the best:
*Find out what’s not allowed in the dorm before you go shopping. Many colleges don’t allow cooking appliances, for example, beanbag chairs or paint. Buying something, then having it taken away, is tantamount to throwing your money down the drain. Check first.
*How much room do you really have? The average dorm room is approx. 96 square feet. After a bed and desk, that doesn’t leave much for extras. Hang what you can, or take advantage of vertical space with a long, narrow armoire or cupboard. (Stay away from the canvas versions that hang from a clothes pole — they’re too flimsy to hold much.) Shoe racks and hooks can hang behind the door, taking advantage of that otherwise-wasted space.
A loft arrangement makes even better use of the bed/desk combination. The version below is from American Furniture Warehouse, and reasonably priced — less than $400. But you can also build one, using online plans or videos. (Check with the college first to make sure these are allowed.)
What — loft bed/desk arrangements aren’t okay? Build a platform with storage areas underneath the mattress. (This version can be made in a day, and doesn’t cost that much.) Or use bed risers to lift the bed’s height, so bins can slide underneath. Your kid will need every foot of space they can squeeze out.
*Check out the usual spots for vintage and gently-used items. Thrift shops, Craigslist, secondhand stores, garage sales — these gems-in-the-rough can produce that bookshelf your son’s been needing, as well as crates and storage cubes. AMC’s Mad Men series, as well as home dec trends, have prompted a new interest in 50s and 60s furniture. You may find the perfect chair or couch –and the real thing — for hundreds of dollars less than its copy.
Vintage clothing and accessories are still trendy, as well. Daughter’s black vintage leather jacket prompted intense admiration from her Colorado roommate, a high-income princess who was used to flying home every other weekend — to L.A. (Roommate even asked to borrow the jacket for a weekend.)
The jacket’s cost? $10 at the local thrift shop.
*Bring less. Much less. Only take what your student absolutely needs. They can purchase a critical item at school, have you ship it, or bring it from home on their next visit. (This especially applies to CDs and DVDs, video games and clothes, particularly shoes.)
*College students use many of the same school supplies that younger kids need. And you shouldn’t be paying full price for any of them. Gluesticks, markers, notebooks, pens…see the earlier post on ways to save on these items.
*College students also need basic home supplies. If you’re driving them to school, you can stock up on shampoo, toothpaste, detergent, etc. that they need. (Don’t forget change for the washers: a roll of quarters makes a welcome Christmas stocking stuffer.)
*Don’t buy a full dining plan. Odds are excellent that your student wouldn’t use all the meals, anyways. (And the universities are counting on that.) A partial food plan will cover basic needs; convenience and canned foods fill in any gaps. If you’re lucky, they’ll make some fruit and vegetable purchases from the local market, too.
*Renter’s insurance gives you peace of mind. One couple’s daughter had a bike stolen twice during her freshman year, in spite of cable and a U-lock. Our own daughter lost a bike and a pair of treasured Birkenstocks in her first year of college. (The latter during a party, when everyone went barefoot.) Renter’s insurance should cover damage to items like Ipods and laptops, as well as stolen items. It’s not that expensive, and may be able to link to parents’ homeowner’s insurance.
*Buy your textbooks used — or don’t buy them at all. Once the booklist is available, compare it to online sources like Amazon or Abebooks. (Or check out the used book section at the university bookstore.) You’ll find the same books, often for dimes on the dollar.
Even better — rent your textbooks, instead of buying them. Barnes & Noble has a rental program; others do, too. It’s cheaper, and you can keep them as long as needed. Returning the books is easy, too — you simply mail them back. And if even that is stretching it — you may well be able to find the textbook needed in the reference section at the university library. (Daughter took care of at least half her book needs in one class this way one semester.)
Saving money this way lets your student put more toward the important things — like tuition, beer and pizza.