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Reader Question: How Do YOU Save on College Necessities & What Items Are Really Needed?

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Check out this question from reader, Resse –

My daughter will be graduating at the end of this month from high school and she will be off to college in August. We haven’t received the list of items she will need to bring in the Fall. What are some items that Hipsters wish they had purchased? Or vice versa – that they wasted money on buying? How do you save on college items from the checklists?

Please share your tips in the comments. Thanks!

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Comments 128

  1. Candice

    Take it from a girl who went by the list…i bought everything. We were so packed in the car we couldn’t see out the back. I bought an iron..never used it. Mattress topper a foam is a must. Sometimes dorm beds are terrible. If you bake take pans, I did and everyone loved me for it. I bought the mini fridge new but if you do this get one with a separate freezer. Mini fridges don’t keep things frozen if together. Tv is a must! One thing i later had to buy were curtains. There were old mini blinds that were terrible. Used em a four years!!! Best thing i bought besides my butterfly chair which i still have. Oh and a laptop desk from IKEA doubled as a little side table for phone glasses. If there is an IKEA near you check out their college night.

  2. Amy

    One of my daughters went to a small, private college where there were a lot of students who come from extremely wealthy familes, and/or were from overseas. At the end of the school year they had what was called “dump & run”, where a lot of people threw out just about everything. A lot of it was rescued, cleaned, and resold at the campus co-op. But there were a lot of textbooks thrown out and my daughter would collect them and sell them. She made around $1000 one year!!!
    By contrast, my son goes to a state college, and he says you can’t even find a pencil being thrown out 🙂

  3. 4Ella

    My son is first year in college and he is coming home this week, can’t wait, miss him so much 🙂
    So, about couple months before he left I started shopping, almost everything he needed I got for free or very cheap. Thanks to Sears points I was able to get all the sheets, towels, rug, microwave, mattress topper, and much more. I got some stuff from Amazon that I was saving points from swagbucks, redeemed several gift cards for Walmart, Target, Macy’s, from my credit cards, and other survey companies that I was saving points for a while.
    But the big ticket is the tuition that I have to pay $25K a year 🙁 Oh well, everything we do for our kids 🙂

    Thank you Collin for finding all the great deals for us, I don’t know what would I do if I had to pay out of pocket for all of that.

    • 4Ella

      I also got him a safe so he could lock his documents, cash, laptop, etc. My son is diabetic to he keeps the needles and supplies locked also.

  4. Kelsie

    Make sure your mini fridge has a freezer portion! Having frozen meals available for late night snacks is great, plus ice cream! Under bed storage is really useful, especially if you have a lot of clothes. You can keep winter sweaters packed away until the time comes and vice versa for your summer clothes during winter. Closet space can be limited. Especially for me because I ended up putting my dresser inside my dorm’s closet so I had more floor room. Don’t forget to make up a little pharmacy box. Band-aids, Advil, Tums, Neosporin, etc. I would recommend each roommate having their own tv if you enjoy watching tv. My roommate and I tried just having one at first but we wanted to watch our own shows so a couple weeks in I ended up getting my own anyways. If you don’t want to take an iron up to school I would atleast suggest getting a bottle of Snuggle wrinkle releaser, works like magic. For plate and cups, might be easier to just get a pack of paper plates and plastic cups because washing dishes in the bathroom sinks isn’t fun plus its likely to clog the drains. If you plan on doing laundry at school one of the best graduation gifts I got was my Grandma gave me a piggy bank filled with quarters.

    Somethings you’re gonna wanna wait to get till you see your dorm. Like a door mirror, some dorms will come with a door mirror and others you will need to get yourself. Also if you find that your dorm doesn’t have carpeting, thankfully mine did, you might wanna invest in an large area rug. Personally, I just think felling carpet under you feet rather than cold tile gives it a more homie feel. Thank bit of advice I can give you is buy a cheap pair of flip flops to designate as your shower shoes. ALWAYS shower in shoes unless you are lucky enough to have a private one. Dorm showers are shared by 20 people, they can get GROSS!

    p.s. scope out the summer yard sales! could find some cheap stuff like microwaves, mini fridge, tv, etc.

  5. Dorothy

    Save on your first year of college totally. Take the core subjects (history/social studies, natural science, English, humanities, college math, etc.) studying @ home using CLEP tests that are accepted at almost all universities. You get 30 credits out of the way at a fraction of the cost. I have two sons that have done this. You buy the book, study for the test, take the test at a local college for @ $120 for 3 – 6 credits. You can take the entire first year of college for @ $1,000. That is a huge savings, and with two sons that was a ton. If you are in the military the government will cover the costs. There are also tests called Dantes too that do somewhat the same things, but have some different subjects like speech etc.

  6. Cathy

    Never bought a TV for my daughter, instead, she used her Netflix login on her computer and that was plenty. Three years later she still doesn’t have one.

    • 4Ella

      My son does the same thing 🙂

  7. Kathy

    I have 2 girls in college, one in SoCal and one in AZ, & I’d say the most used item is a fan, and the least used is a tv. Dorms seem to be kept warm & roommates don’t always agree on comfort levels, and even when they have a tv it seems most kids watch shows on their laptops.

    • El

      A fan is a must! I go to school in Wisconsin and even here a fan is needed the first and last few weeks of school!

    • Nikki

      Third the fan! Plus it acts as white noise since dorms can be noisy at all hours of the night/early morning.

  8. Christina

    A Tervis cup and a Brita filter! I still have the ones I got for college and I’ve been out for 8 years now.

  9. Robyn

    One thing I bought for my daughter before she left for college was a jumper cable to keep in her trunk. She thought it was the most useless thing until she went to get in her car one day and it wouldn’t start. She couldn’t just call mom or dad to come to her rescue. We were 2 hours away.

    • Sue

      Jumper cables and a tire inflator are two useful things, as well as a AAA gold membership if you can afford it. It’s worth it to have someone who can tow you to a shop for free.

  10. Amy

    A small humidifier is great for the winter. The heating really dries out the air and it’s a prime time to get sick.

  11. Cat

    At parent orientation, the health service at my son’s school said if you send nothing else, send a thermometer and a way to bring a fever down.

  12. M

    I have 3 children in college and I started shopping in the fall of their senior years when Kohl’s and Target had coupons and gift card offers plus in September all of the college items that are on most college lists were put on clearance. Check Bed Bath and Beyond in May and June for marked down bedding twin x longbed sets that are left over from the previous year that were geared towards college students. I got my son a set last year that had 2 sheet sets,pillow sham,blanket and comforter inside a hanging storage organizer off the clearance table because it had a small dent in the side of the organizer for less than $15 with a coupon that was originally marked over $100. I did the same thing 3 years ago for my daughter around the same price and hers came with a heavy duty large plastic storage crate that she used under her bed for storage.
    Definitely get some kind of foam topper or memory foam pad and a waterproof mattress pad. Last August I found them at target and kohls for under $12 with coupons. If the dorm is big enough get a small table of some kind to put next to the bed for a clock and lamp. I found plastic desk lamps at Target on clearance last year in September that had outlets built in them for phone charging for under $5.
    At least 12 towels so they do not have to wash as often. Kohls and Jcpenney on sale and with coupons is the best way to get linens.
    Try to call your daughters school to see if you can look at a room in whatever dorm she is going to be in to get an idea of the size of the room or check the universities website to see if they have a video tour and measurements for each room and what is included in the room.Check to see if they include a microwave and mini fridge before buying one. My son’s school had them in the older dorms that were shared by two people.
    Find out who her roommates will be and talk to them before buying items like a microwave,min fridge,trash cans,dishes,tv and dvd players,lamps and others items that can be shared. You do not want duplicates of items that you do not have room for in the dorm. Also saves everyone money by agreeing for certain roommates to bring certain items.
    Check to see if the school laundry is a one time fee per year or semester or if they have to put money in the machine.
    Stay away from the linen services that send out catalogs in the mail to students they charger double and sometimes triple for sets that have bedding and linens.Also stay away from the services that offer care packages they are expensive for very little items. You can get the same items they offer and take them to the student yourself if possible for a lot less.
    Check and see if you can do store pickup at stores like Bed Bath and Beyond,Target and Kohls at stores near her school so that you do not have to pack them up in your car.

  13. Irina

    If you have the option of going to college in the town where you currently live, that will save you tons of money! About 8years ago I was in college and I am so thankful I chose to stay and live with my parents. That was the best thing for me and my parents were happy!

  14. 🍪Shirley M

    A laundry basket that looks like a taller version of a grocery store basket. Best purchase ever! It’s slim enough to fit in the dorm “closet” and easy to carry with one hand back and forth to the car because of the handles. My mom bought it for me at Target almost 20 years ago and I still use it!!! I still see it being sold at Target during the summer.

  15. Kathy

    My daughter received a small toolbox with some essential tools- screwdrivers, pliers, hammer, tape measure,etc.. Came in very handy when she was in the dorm and later in apartments.

  16. Bea

    Make sure you bring a trash can and trash bags although a small trash can Doesn’t seem important it is! People always forget to bring one and the first few days are hell because you have so much trash after unpacking. Also get a laundry basket with wheels it was the best thing I bought and it lasted the entire time I was an undergrad.

  17. Amanda

    We rent textbooks for our daughter from They send a prepaid box for you to return it. It has saved us a fortune.

  18. mrs.musser

    my daughter just moved home for the summer after her first year of college. she was about 4 hours away in Chicago, so we tried to make sure she had the comforts of home. but one of her FAVORITE things was a HDMI cable… hook your laptop up to your TV. my hubby, the tech guy, bought it so she could stream Netflix onto the big screen. it was a hit with all the girls on her dorm floor as they had movie/TV binge watching parties! probably the best $10 we spent. we got her a macbook air for a high school graduation gift….she also has a mini fridge, fan, etc. i ended up getting her towels practically free from using my sears rewards and points. we stocked her up on the mega box of microwave popcorn from costco as well. she’s learned that doesn’t need quite as much stuff/clothes as she anticipated, so i’m sure moving her back in a few months will be a bit easier. oh, and rubbermaid bins are a godsend to containing everything for moving back and forth! 🙂

    • Anna Marie

      Rent a storage unit so you don’t have to bring everything back home. My daughter usually bring her summer clothes, shoes and toiletries home with her,we even put her winter clothes in storage. If you can get your child to get about 4 others students to go in on the storage unit so it will be cheaper! This will be my daughter Junior year and we have rented a storage unit for 2 years. She goes to a college in our state but it’s about a 6 hours drive . Some colleges even make the students take their stuff home on Christmas break! Thank God my daughter goes to a small catholic college!

  19. Tori

    A case of chicken broth & several boxes of cold/flu medicine. They are going to catch the school plague no matter how hard they try and when they are sick is not when they want to go shopping for anything. Hand sanitizer and nair/razors are also needed (just got that SOS last week). Also what you need will differ depending on how isolated the school is and if your kid has their own vehicle. My daughter is 20 miles from the nearest town and 60 from a decent sized city. Thank god for amazon prime & 2 day delivery!

  20. Amy

    One money-saving tip is to think carefully about the meal plan your student should have. At my sons school there isn’t much of a price difference between the unlimited plan and one with a set number of meals. For him, as a typical guy, it was a no-brainer to get the unlimited plan because he can eat as much as he wants, and visit the dining hall as many times as he wants. And although it’s frowned upon, he will even take food from the dining hall to have in his dorm, or for when he’s got things to do where he’ll be away from campus.
    However, my daughter goes to a different college, and it makes absolutely no sense for her to get an unlimited plan. She also takes food with her from the dining hall that she can eat as snacks in her dorm. Also, she will attend certain clubs and/or functions on campus that offer free food. This is a great way to stretch your meal budget.
    We’re all frugal people here, so I think it’s important to teach our college kids to learn the same frugality, and the value of a dollar. It will serve them well in life 🙂

  21. Liz

    Definitely send your child with a sewing kit! My grandmother made sure that my sister and I both had one when we went off to college. Turns out for both of us, we were the only kids with them in our dorms!

  22. Kathie White

    Two in college and one thing that’s great is a small shower bar and shower curtain. In a suite, there will be a shared bath and it provides a lot of privacy in the toilet area! Also, bath rugs you can toss at the end of the year, believe me, you will not want them back!

  23. Kameron helped me find my textbook for the lowest possible price. It is a huge money saver for me! 🙂

  24. Kikisaver

    Just graduated so a few things I’d say:
    1. My parents could not afford to help with any money toward college. I didn’t expect them to pay my way! I knew I’d need to receive and was blessed with both merit and athletic scholarships that totally paid the $60,000/yr tuition. So first I’d say dedication to studies and a sport can go a LONG way to save a ton of money!

    I helped my suitemates save by:
    2. Stocking up on “free after rebate” school staple deals @Office Max/Office Depot, Staples, etc.
    2. Skipping the campus bookstore. Check library reserves for course text, rent or share books.
    3. Coordinating with suitemates in advance to bring appliances — dorm size fridge, microwave, iron –check to see what is allowed first! Some dorms have fridges, freezer, and oven in the main lounge.
    4. When I moved out of the dorms and rented an apartment my roommates and I paid a tiny deposit ($30 total) for the previous tenants’ decent pottery barn furniture (which we used for 3 years) and then the next tenants after us paid us back our deposit. Pretty neat for everyone since we didn’t have to haul all that furniture! Talk with people and you’d be amazed at how much money you can save.
    5. Check Freecycle before buying–students often toss gently used stuff because they don’t want to haul it or they live out of state. I scored a very expensive drafting table and beautiful copper pots for free! I went to college out of state and
    gave away stuff didn’t want to ship home.

  25. Kikisaver

    The biggest tip– we also used Hip2save to save a ton of money throughout college! Thanks Collin– you ROCK!!

  26. Suzanne H

    Once your student is in college, skip the care packages the school and other sites offer. Amazon Prime Pantry is the way to go! I’ve sent my nephew several care packages – you can get anything from meds to ramen noodles and they frequently offer free shipping/discount codes/coupons. Even if you pay the $5.99 for shipping, it’s WAY cheaper than any other place we’ve found. My sister-in-law was able to send him and his roommate several cases of sodas – crazy heavy – for $5.99. They ended up selling them for a $1 each to other students and made a bunch of $! 🙂

  27. Rebecca In TX

    A lap desk (with pellets that form to your legs) was a necessity for me! I used it in every college dorm/apartment and it still gets almost daily use since I got it 11 years ago.

  28. Jen

    One unusual thing I would recommend is making sure she’s signed up for a frequent flyer program. Not a credit card, just become a mileage plan member. Most airlines have what are called Online shopping malls (My program is Alaska, here’s their portal link to give you an example ) where you can earn miles just by shopping online through their store regardless of what credit card you use. It’s a lot like the swagbucks program only with a MUCH better return. Half way through school I realized I could start buying textbooks and other items I needed through the mall and get a lot of the same deals I could in store (some could even be picked up in store that day or the next) PLUS I would be getting airline miles on top of it. I used my “textbook miles” to take myself to London after I graduated for $19 in fees and made the graduating from college experience even more memorable. It’s just another, creative way to stretch a dollar.

    I’m sure someone else mentioned this but staples is the way to go for office supplies when they have their sales.

    Lastly have her download the shopkick app and link her credit/debit card. Now that they’re partnered with stores like Trader Joes and other grocery stores she can earn points to get free gift cards like Starbucks for group and late night study sessions and gas cards for laundry drives home without even needing to think about it. Points accumulate slowly but they do add up over time.

    Hope this helps!

  29. Deborah Susco

    Plan early; the earlier the better. Many of the “big box” stores will have all the college stuff on sale in October. I scored lots of good stuff like twin xl sheets shopping at Target after September. Need to have and nice to have are two different items. Amazon offers free Prime and my daughter overused it, but it was good to have. Rent your books if you can it will save you a ton of money. Tag sale, Craigslist, and yes moving out day at college, any college is a gold mine of stuff. My daughter picked up a lot of stuff that people left behind.

  30. jo

    Flip flops for shower a must. Extension cords. A good zipped mattress pad foam topper and extra hangers.
    In June bed bath and beyond will have full college lists and 20% off your entire purchase coupons will be available

  31. libby

    As someone who just graduated, I can tell you that I am fairly spoiled. I got my sheets from macy’s (400-500 thread count) for $20. Invest in a THICK mattress cover! Those mattresses are nasty and only about 4inches thick but because of the lack of thickness, I was able to use standard length sheets on a long mattress. We were not allowed to bring mini fridges, toasters, any kind of heating element (just a microwave) and the fridge was supplied to us. I lived without a tv or cable for the first 2 years because a tv wouldn’t fit. I still don’t watch cable out of habit and prefer netlfix. BRING EXTENSION CORDS, the plugs are few in numbers and never where you want them. Go easy on the amount of clothes you bring up to start. I used plastic pull out drawers under my bed one year and giant black rubbermaids the next to fit my excessive clothing habit. I had one pot and one pan which I seldom used in the floor kitchen.

    Part of what you need to ask yourself for bringing is are you in a dorm, apartment, on or off campus?

  32. Anna Marie

    Stock up on laundry detergent, dryer sheets, toiletries,paper products, school supplies, bottle waters and snacks using coupons and coupon sites to let you know about the deals. My daughter first year she was stocked up on everything she didn’t have to call and ask for anything, she still had stuff left over for the next school year.. I also recommend them getting into the work study program if they can so they can have a little money, that help my daughter pay her phone bill. She worked at the library on campus for about 10 hours a week, that was her first ever job. In the summer she got a job at Waffle House and save her money for the next school year and she never call home and ask for money. Thank God for that because I’m living paycheck to paycheck just barely making it! God is Good! #Allthetime

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