12 Money Saving Tips for Dorm Shopping

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12 Money Saving Tips for Dorm Shopping

When it’s back to school time for college students, almost every freshman is looking forward to one day in particular…

…and no, it’s not graduation day (or at least not quite yet).

That magical day that they eagerly await is the day that it’s time to go dorm shopping!

Students flock to Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond in the weeks before the first semester starts to pick out the perfect items for move-in day. New stuff for the first space that’s all (or at least half) yours – well, it’s exciting!


Before you know it, all those big and little things on your list start to add up. For those shopping on a budget, maximizing dollars spent is going to be key.

(Not sure precisely WHAT stuff you need to pack for college? No worries! I’ve got you covered with my Ultimate College Packing List – free checklist included!)


Seasoned bargain hunters will know that most stores don’t make it easy for you to find the best deals.

And to make it more confusing….

….there are also items out there made especially for dorm rooms, but they are often OVERpriced. Just because they are “specially” made. Sneaky, right?

Well, fear not!

Because in this guide, I’m going to drop some knowledge bombs on you. But in a good way, of course, with 12 money-saving tips for dorm shopping! 

My 12 Money Saving Tips for Dorm Shopping

dorm shopping

1.) Check Ahead of Time (Before it’s Too Late)

As I’m sure you’re aware, every dorm has a set of rules.

This first money saving tip is to make sure you know the rules BEFORE buying or packing anything.

For example, most dorms do not allow candles. As a candle lover, this rule makes me frown BIG time.


Some dorms don’t even allow you to use small kitchen appliances like toasters or microwaves. It would be a bummer to buy something you have to get rid of once you arrive.


Find out the dimensions of the room you’ll be staying in, so you have an idea of how much space you’ll have. Know ahead of time if the dorm room has air conditioning and if the beds are stacked or separate.

If there are bunk beds, you won’t be able to use bed risers, and you may rethink needing a fan if the room has cooling covered.

Know what your college provides so you can avoid buying too much. Which, in turn, saves you money – yay!

Good news:

Bed, Bath & Beyond has a handy tool where you can search for your school to see what they provide and what’s prohibited in the dorms.

Oh, and one more thing! Coordinate with your roommate, so you both don’t end up bringing something that you only need one of – like a coffeemaker.

Work it out who will be responsible for bringing what.

When in doubt – I suggest under-packing instead of over-packing. If you do end up needing something you didn’t bring, you can always buy it once you’re there.

dorm shopping

2.) Take Inventory

What do you already own? Start by writing down a list of items you already have, so you can CLEARLY define what you need to buy.

If you haven’t left for college yet, you may be living at home. Don’t think just because you are moving out on your own the first time, you need ALL new stuff.

If you have a small fan or lamp in your current bedroom – you can use that in a dorm.

And, trust me – it will be a BIG relief not to have to buy everything when you start paying your own bills. If your parents (or guardians) let you take a few extra bars of soap, then do it!

In the long run, everything you already have = more money saved.

dorm shopping

3.) Set a Budget

This next money saving tip for dorm shopping is obvious to some, but it needs to be said!

Have you already figured out how much you have to spend on dorm shopping? No?


I recommend doing that!

Because it’s pretty easy to spend wayyyy too much when there are no guidelines to stay within.

Having a budget to stick to will help narrow down what you really need and what you can live without. It doesn’t need to be a complicated budget, either.

It can be as simple as deciding whether you can afford to spend $100 or $1000.

Just pick an amount that you can comfortably afford.

dorm shopping

4.) Consider Renting Items

Often colleges will provide rentals on things like mini-fridges, microwaves, and textbooks.

(Psssst, not sure where you should get textbooks? Here’s where you can get the cheapest ones.)


If the price is reasonable, it makes sense to rent these items.

After college, you may find that you have no use for something like a mini-fridge. If you rent it, you can turn it in when you’ve finished college.


That’s just one less thing you have to pack or sell when the semester is over.

Look into your school’s rental prices to decide if it’s right for you.


5.) Buy Quality

When you are trying to save money on dorm shopping, it’s not always the best practice to buy what’s cheapest.

If you buy a desk lamp at the dollar store, you can count on buying one over and over again. Spend a few extra bucks on one that will last a school year.

For example, this lamp has great reviews, and it’s still relatively inexpensive. Doing a little online research can pay off when you need to stretch those dollars.

And remember:

The things you buy don’t need to be fancy, just functional!

dorm shopping

6.) Buy for Space

I’m sure you know, but:

Dorm rooms are small, so you’ll need to make the MOST out of the available space.

Being organized is what will help you do just that! When you are thinking of what to buy, keep this in mind.

Related: 8 Dorm Room Organization Ideas for College Students on a Budget

But of course:

Make sure any specialty organizational items (like under the bed drawers) can fit in your dorm room BEFORE purchasing.

Different dorms have different bed heights and other variations. Maybe wait until you get there!

dorm shopping

7.) Hunt for Bargains

If you live near a college, it’s good to check out what students are selling when graduation comes around.

You can find GREAT deals on items that new graduates are getting rid of.

Before you go dorm shopping, be sure to hit up the hit the campus when new graduates are moving out. You'll find GREAT deals! Click to Tweet

Shop at garage sales and Craigslist to find used, quality items at a discounted price. You never know what hidden gems you can find.


The best part about using these methods to dorm shop is that the price is negotiable!

You can haggle with the seller to get a lower price. Even if it is only a few dollars less than the asking price, you can still keep a few more dollars in your pocket.

More places you can find nice deals include:

  • Ross
  • Marshals
  • TJ Maxx

These stores have different stock all the time. If you don’t find what you were looking for, try checking back again in a week or two.


Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond have great sales on dorm-specific items like bedding, decor, and small appliances in the weeks leading up to the start of school.


If you have your eye on something at one of those stores, wait for it to go on sale. It’ll be worth the wait!

dorm shopping

8.) Avoid “Great for Dorms” Labels

On that note:

Don’t get too caught up in buying items because they are dorm specific.

You can go into most big box stores and find a college section with items labeled with something like “Great for Dorms!”.

They are eye-catching because they make shoppers think they are made to fit perfectly in a dorm room.


In fact, they are the same items sold all over the store. Except with higher price tags!

A little example of this would be:

If you were to buy a comforter that says “Perfect for a Dorm,” it may cost $24.99, and it’s a size twin XL (the most common size of dorm beds). The exact size comforter in the bedding section might cost something like $14.99.

Paying an extra 10 bucks just for a label? No thanks!

Dorm-sized usually means smaller.


Find the smaller items you need in the regular places in the stores – don’t get sucked in by the word DORM on a label.

dorm shopping

9.) Get Creative

When dorm shopping, it’s best to be creative and purchase things with more than one use.

Like this small ottoman can be used for seating, your feet, a bedside table, and storage. Store blankets, shower supplies, or whatever in there.


This charging station will not only give you more outlets, but it is surge protected, has USB ports, and has a shelf to set your phone while it’s charging. A surge protector is in your best interest, and there’s nothing worse than having a fried computer due to a thunderstorm. ?

Try to find items that can fulfill more than one need so you can buy less. The less things you need to buy, the better!

dorm shopping

10.) Price Match

Now, this can be intimidating at first, but don’t worry, stores offer price matching it for a reason!

When buying anything you need for your dorm, don’t be afraid to ask a store to match a lower price you saw at another store or on the internet.

Most big stores have price matching policies.

You may even be surprised at how prices differ from store to store on similar items. Make it easy on yourself by shopping at one store and matching prices.


If you aren’t sure if a specific store price matches, it never hurts to ask. You can walk out of the store spending a lot less than you intended.

Saving money dorm shopping is what we’re after here!

dorm shopping

11.) Shop at Dollar Stores (For Some Things)

You may think that shopping at The Dollar Tree will save you money, but stop and think first. It can save you money on some items, but others aren’t that great of a deal.

YES, you can get nice prices on certain things.

Do buy cups, dishes, organizers, and cleaning supplies as they are adequate for what you will need in a dorm. Here’s even a complete list of things you should buy at The Dollar Store + things to NOT buy there.

Avoid purchasing things like toothbrushes or toothpaste at the Dollar Store because you can get them free most of the time. If you know your way around a coupon, that is.

Related: 24 Things That are always FREE with Coupons

For the most part, though:

You can be assured you’re getting a good deal on decorating supplies (like small baskets, picture frames, and seasonal items) here.

dorm shopping

12.) Take Care of Your Stuff

Finally, the last money saving tip I have for you:

Whether your items are purchased new, second-hand, or brought from home, it will be in your BEST interest to take care of them.

It’s all common sense stuff.

Like, if you have a small table you put next to your bed – don’t use it for seating.


Washing your bedding often will make it last longer. Think again if you think you are saving money by skipping laundry on bedding.

If you don’t wash it – it can get stained or start to smell bad, and you may find yourself buying new ones. Regular washing will keep them fresh and usable.


Always read care instructions on anything you buy and FOLLOW them. For example – if you use a humidifier, most instructions will tell you to clean them once a week with very specific instructions on how to do it.

If you skip this – you can plan on having mold in the air and thus getting yourself sick – defeating the point of a humidifier. ?

Getting sick in college is the last thing you want to do (think medicine expenses, missing classes, and feeling miserable).

So you know, following proper care protocols for your stuff can really matter!


You likely have electronics, so by all means, invest in a surge protector! It only takes one power surge for something important, like a laptop, to be ruined.

Now you have all of my 12 money saving tips when it comes to dorm shopping!

Here a couple of other posts I recommend checking out if you’re new to the college life:

Do you have any other money saving tips for dorm shopping??

Let me know in a comment!


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