How to Save Time And Money Shopping for College

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.

dorm room
You can help your teen create a cute and complete dorm room without breaking the bank.

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College Shopping

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.

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. Find one store where you can check off most, if not all, of your list and be done with the task.

Check out the college dorm sections on the Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond websites for some of the best one-stop selections.

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.

Bed, Bath & Beyond has a New Mover program which might be just what your teen needs, especially if they are moving into an apartment, rather than a dorm. Sign up to get 20% off and FREE truck delivery for furniture. 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. Answer these 50 questions, first, and then 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 you know what dorm your student is living in, drill down to see if there is a floor plan showing the furniture provided and the height of the lofted bed. This under-bed real estate will be your student’s most important space to maximize. Make sure to find the list of prohibited items at your teen’s college to avoid costly mistakes.

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. If you are able to shop at brick and mortar retailers with sales associates who are knowledgeable about dorm merchandise, that is a plus. For online shopping, explore any options for virtual styling and online support to enhance your shopping. Remember to take note of return policies and keep all receipts.

College shopping hacks save money
Personalizing a dorm room makes it feel a bit more like home.

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 or online 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.
  • Target offers a Drive Up service – order through the app, wait for notification and a sales associate will load your shopping into your car. This is perfect for items that are always in stock that you can pick up once you are on campus.
  • Amazon Prime Student – this might be the very best time for your student to move off of your Prime account and onto their own. They will get unlimited FREE two-day shipping and exclusive deals for students.

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.

bed rest pillow

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.

memory foam mattress topper

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.

target first aid bag

17. Extra toiletries are not a bad idea.
Many freshmen don’t have a car and a local drug store may not be within 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.
Find out if your local store is having any special college events (this year those might be virtual) – 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:

Anker phone charging cable

surge protector

  • Wireless noise-canceling headphones are very useful for watching shows or listening to music in the room without bothering their roommate.
  • Small external battery charger to give their phones a battery boost when they are on the go. This is one of THE best safety devices since your teen will always want to have a charged phone to contact someone in case of an emergency.

jackery bolt

Grown and Flown, the book, has lots of tips for what to buy for college, how to pack and …how to say goodbye. 

grown and flown book

When it's time to take your teen shopping for college supplies, it's important that you use these college hacks and tips to save time and money and make it an enjoyable experience for you and your teen. #college #collegetips #collegehacks #hacks #collegetricks #collegelife #collegedorm #dorm #dormlife #collegeprep

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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