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 college shopping journey is just about them.
How to Save Time and Money
1. Shop when your kid is interested.
This may sound obvious, but all you need to do is look around a big box store 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.
If that doesn’t work, there is Bedbathandbeyond.com that has everything you need. 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. We both went to Bed, Bath & Beyond with our kids. 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 more than $1,300 outfitting their teen 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.
If this information is not available from the college, check Bed Bath & Beyond’s individual college listings for the information. If you leave the list at home, don’t worry, a college expert at the store will print it out for you then and there.
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. Online shopping is great and we are huge fans, but bricks and mortar retailers have may have sales associates who are knowledgeable about dorm merchandise and college shopping hacks.
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.
One popular trick is to shop at Bed, Bath & Beyond and take advantage of two programs that do just that. Forget stuffing your car to the gills, forget taking boxes to the post office. It is all taken care of. Here’s how they each work and did we mention they are both FREE?
- Pack & Hold® – select the items you want in your local BBB and, when you arrive on campus for move in day, your order is waiting for you at the BBB store closest to campus.
- Shop Now, Ship Later – allows you to pick what you want now and pick a ship date at checkout.
11. Shop where your kid likes to go.
You need their buy-in and here is how to get it. If there are snacks or something they want to shop for – other than sheets and towels – factor in that time for the outing.
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 hamper or 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! Find out if your local store is having any special college nights – there are sometimes extra promotions going on that you will want to take advantage of.
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 these tech essentials for their dorm room:
- Phone charging cable that is at least 6′ long (outlets can be few and far between)
- Surge protector with USB ports regular extension cords are often prohibited in the dorms
- Small external battery charger to give their phones a battery boost when they are on the go
Note: We receive compensation from purchases made through some of the links in this post.
Grown and Flown, the book, has lots of tips for what to buy for college, how to pack and how to say goodbye.