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 August 3, 2012  Posted by  College, Shopping

It’s finally time to send your first child off to college, and stores want to help you send her off in style. The circulars are full of cute dorm decor and storage items. You can’t help thinking that your best bet is to buy her everything she might possibly need: a microwave for late-night snacks, a set of cubes to store her books, a mini-fridge to keep healthy snacks.

Don’t do it.

Dorm rooms are small. Freshmen typically arrive with way too much stuff and end up taking a lot of it home, where it takes up space in YOUR house. Instead of embarking on a shopping trip, hand your collegian a Target or Walmart gift card or $100 in cash and tell her to equip her room a few weeks into the semester, when she knows what she really needs.

When I went off to college (let’s just say several decades ago), I never thought about bringing households goods. At the last minute, I bought two sets of sheets, matching towels and an orange and brown Indian print bedspread (which may clue you in that this was the 1970s).

My dorm had a kitchen and I didn’t have a meal plan, so a few weeks into the semester, I realized I would need some kitchen equipment. I went to Kmart and bought a few forks, plates and pans. With a full-size kitchen across the hall, I didn’t need a mini-refrigerator. But because I liked to bake for my dorm mates, I did need an electric mixer. More than 30 years later, I’m still using that purchase.

Most college students won’t need a mixer, and many will need a small refrigerator. Some will need a microwave, and some will not. Not everyone will need the same things, and they won’t really know which ones until they settle in. So why waste money on the wrong things?

The Indian print bedspread was a wasted purchase. My roommate hated it, so we shopped together for matching comforters and curtains.

We know that shopping for dorm decor with your son or daughter would be a lot of fun. But it’s time to let go of the apron strings. By letting your student buy her own household items once she arrives, you not only save money, you give your student a chance to flaunt her independence and learn how to shop.

What was your must-have item when you went off to college or sent your son or daughter — and what turned out to be a waste of money?

Teresa Mears

Teresa Mears is a website publisher, writer, blogger and editor who was raised to be frugal. In her 35 years as a journalist, she has written for papers ranging in size from the weekly Portland (Tenn.) Leader to The Los Angeles Times. She was an editor for the Miami Herald for more than 17 years, overseeing coverage of home, real estate, family and other subjects. She has also been a contributor to The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Dallas Morning News and other publications. When she’s not writing about Florida deals, she writes and edits for MSN Money and does the Listed blog for MSN Real Estate. Teresa owns and operates Miami On The CheapFlorida On The CheapFort Lauderdale On The CheapPalm Beach On The CheapOrlando On The Cheap, Florida Keys On the Cheap and Jacksonville On The Cheap, as well as Baltimore on the Cheap and Washington, D.C., on the Cheap.

One comment on “How to shop for your college student: Don’t

  1. Jody Mace on said:

    My daughter will be a college freshman this year. We did go together to buy sheets, towels, and something from IKEA called a skrumpt or kukdirp or whatever. (Storage unit for closet.) But beyond that, she’ll figure out what she needs when she gets there. For the first few weeks, Target runs a free shuttle all the time to and from her campus!