Look at your kid, your actual real kid. What is important to her? Does feeling “at home” impact her happiness? Is he a terrible sleeper who needs a comfortable bed? Is she indifferent to lots of clothing so the dresser provided is adequate? Is he bringing expensive musical equipment that will need to be protected?
Shopping for college can feel like a generic experience with long lists of “must haves” but you are only sending off one kid, a kid you know so well, so make sure this shopping journey is just about them.
Favorite College Shopping Hacks
1. Shop when your kid is interested. This may sound obvious, but all you need to do is look around Bed Bath & Beyond on any summer afternoon to know that this is not always the case. Eye rolling teens and stressed out moms abound. The whole process is a lot easier when your kid is on board. Think good night’s sleep, well-fed teen, friends otherwise occupied.
2. Okay, you say your (let me just guess) son has no interest in ever shopping for their dorm necessities? Yep, been there. Here are a few tactics. “I gave you life, you give me an hour of your summer to get you set. Fair trade?” I used this one to great effect. “Grab a snack, we are shopping online.” Finally, there are always threats or bribes.
3. Don’t think about your own freshman year. While the dorms may look the same, the world has changed beyond recognition and I had to keep telling myself, “they have the internet.” Concentrate on buying your freshmen the items they truly need knowing that you can pick up extras on move in day or can order them online once they have a better idea of dorm living.
4. Shop where you can get everything you need. There is no reason to make this a summer-long project. One stop, boom, done.
5. Buy quality. I have three kids and, for me, that is 12 years in the dorms; you better believe we did hand-me-downs. If this is your eldest, you can pass down items that have been used for only a year or two. If this is one of your younger kids, quality items will make it into their first apartments. Junk won’t make it through the first semester.
6. Shop where there are discounts. Let’s be honest, this is a competitive category and lots of stores want your business. Coupons and discounts are your best friends. The average family spends almost $1,000 outfitting their kids for college, and many spend more. Do the math.
7. If the college has sent you a checklist, look it over carefully. It is unlikely that your teen needs every item on their list and it may be the case that you already have some of the things they need at home. Use the college’s list as a jumping off point to create your individual list, tailored to your kid.
8. Explore your kid’s college website, residential life section, to glean information about what the school allows, prohibits and provides.
9. Shop where you are comfortable. This is a BIG undertaking, the mother of all back to school shopping trips, go where you will get the help you need or shop online if that is more to your liking.
10. Shop where the store will ship for FREE. If you are traveling any distance or don’t have a large SUV or minivan, shipping is inevitable. Let someone else pay for it.
11. Shop where your kid likes to go. Make it easy on yourself.
12. Test-drive the linens. Our kids could not have cared less about thread count, but they could easily feel the differences in how sheets felt to the touch. When you buy at a store with a broad selection, spend some time with the sheet fabric samples before making a decision. Unless you’re shipping directly from the store, wash the linens before you pack them so they are soft and, if you choose dark colors, free of any excess dye.
13. Consider multiple pillows. It seems so simple, but teens tell us they sit on their beds reading in a way they never did a home (no family room couch to lounge on in the dorm) and a big square or a bed rest pillow to prop against the wall turns their bed into a comfortable spot to study. Sure, studying in the library is a better idea, but making their room feel more like home is a great idea too.
14. There are a couple of categories of items that get tricky and a bed topper is one of them. You can pay almost any price for these wonderful additions that turn dorm room beds from a slab of concrete to a bed in which you can get a good night’s sleep. They’re available at many price points in foam egg crate, feather bed, and memory foam types.
15. Find out your teen’s laundry situation before committing to a laundry bag. Are the machines in their dorms or across the quad? My kids love laundry baskets that slide under their beds and out of the way. Others find a traditional bag suits them better. The options are endless.
16. Get them set up with their own personal pharmacy. Don’t buy premade first aid kits, again, generic, and they ignore what your kid needs. Buy a small plastic box and, with your teen, gather together the items they will want at school. It is a great chance to talk about what medications to use when and what symptoms require a visit to the health center. Most freshmen get sick, some get sick often. This will happen at 2 am and they, and you, will be glad you prepared.
17. Extra toiletries are not a bad idea. Many freshmen don’t have a car and a local drug store may not be in walking distance. If they are going to have some under bed storage anyway, extra shampoo, soap body wash, deodorant, razor blades will not go amiss. Sure they can order these things online, but you know they will do that after the last drop is gone.
18. Shop where they have special events. Who doesn’t love a party and meeting other kids and parents going off to college, fun!
19. Go easy on the cleaning supplies. We would love to think they used them, and a few do, but many never open them or forget they even exist. #dormlife
20. Make sure your kid coordinates with roommates and suitemates. My son showed up to a suite that ended up with three coffee makers, because the suitemates did not communicate in advance. A couple of quick emails will save everyone time, money and broken carafes lying on the dorm room floor.
21. Spend some time thinking about electronics. It’s easy to focus on sheets and towels, things we know well. Electronics are some of the biggest expenses and it is an ever-changing market. We recommend buying a long phone charging cord (outlets can be few and far between) and a surge protector with USB ports.
Other items you might consider include a virtual assistant, either Amazon Echo or Google Home, or a charging tower (handy for a desk’s top), headphones (to block out noisy roommates and keep from sharing their music with the hall) and, finally, some students tell us that they use their phones so much during the day and night, that a small external battery is a big help.