33 Ideas for Saving Money While Dorm Shopping

By Kylie Ora Lobell · September 18, 2023 · 9 minute read

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33 Ideas for Saving Money While Dorm Shopping

College is expensive. On top of tuition and room and board, you’ll also need to buy quite a few things to set up your dorm room – from power strips and lamps to bedding and decor. Fortunately, there are ways to save money on dorm room essentials without sacrificing on style, function, or comfort. What follows are 32 smart college shopping tips and tricks that will help you set up your room without breaking the bank.

Tips to Save Money Shopping for Dorm Room Essentials

If you are looking to save when it comes to college dorm shopping, here are some helpful tips.

1. Research Your Dorm

Before going dorm room shopping, look into how big your dorm room is and what furnishings are provided by the university. Then, you’ll have an idea of what you need to buy and can avoid spending money on things that you’ll have when you get to the dorm.

💡 Quick Tip: You can fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee private student loan that covers all school-certified costs.

2. Check Out the Dorm Room Rules

It’s also important to find out the rules for your dorm room. For instance, perhaps your college won’t allow you to have candles or incense burning in your room, or it won’t let you bring a microwave. You’ll know you don’t need to purchase these items because they are forbidden.

3. Don’t Buy Too Much

Dorm rooms are (often) tiny. When looking into how to shop for your college dorm, less is generally more. Avoid buying oversized items and don’t feel like you need to get every single item on those “college dorm essentials” lists.

Think of the things you already use in your daily life and use that as a guide for what you’ll need in college. If you find there is something you’re missing when you arrive, you can always pick it up after move-in day.

4. Create a College Dorm Checklist

Make a comprehensive list of what you need before you start shopping. When you’re in the store, don’t be tempted to spend just because something is cute or it seems like you’ll absolutely need it. You typically need much less than you think.

5. Take Inventory of What You Have

You may already own a bunch of things you need for your dorm room, such as a shower caddy or a small fan. Go around your room at home and take inventory of what you have so you can decide what to buy.

6. Assess the Laundry Situation

Before you purchase a laundry basket or bag, you may want to find out where the washing machines are located — are they in your dorm or across the quad? Based on the answer, you might choose a laundry bag over a basket or vice versa, and can avoid buying the wrong thing (and wasting money).

7. Use Coupons

Look for coupons in your local circulars as well as online when determining what to buy for college dorms. Check out coupon websites like RetailMeNot and Coupons.com, or use a browser extension like
to snag the best deals.

8. Shop at Discount Stores

Why pay full price when you can go to a discount store and find exactly what you need for less? Check out places like Ross, HomeGoods, Marshalls, or Dollar Stores for deals on college shopping needs.

9. Look for All-in-One Sets

Complete sets — such as Bed-in-a-Bag, towel, dish, and toiletry sets — are often an excellent value compared to buying each item individually. Sets also make packing easier, since everything is essentially already packed. Just make sure you actually need everything (or most) of the items included in the set.

10. Sign Up for Target Circle

Another retailer that has a wide selection of items for dorm rooms is Target. People who sign up for their rewards program, Target Circle, can receive exclusive access to special discounts and promotions.

Recommended: How to Save Money in College – 20 Ways

11. Use Amazon Prime

Students can get a significant discount on an Amazon Prime membership, plus discounts on flights and free food delivery. You’ll also receive fast, free delivery on all your college dorm essentials.

12. Use a Cash-Back Credit Card

If shopping with a credit card, use one that offers cash-back. If you are searching for a credit card, try to find one that has no annual fee and a welcome bonus.

13. Don’t Buy the Cheapest Stuff

While it may be tempting to buy the cheapest dorm room items possible, buying flimsy things that will need to be replaced may not be cost-effective. Items will need to be sturdy enough to last you over the next four years or so. Even if you have to pay a little more up front, it’s going to be worth it if your stuff actually lasts until graduation.

14. Leave the Printer at Home

Some colleges offer free printing services as part of tuition. If that’s the case at your school, don’t worry about buying a printer.

15. Shop The Sales

Consider shopping when stores are running sales. This could be on shopping holidays like Labor Day and the Fourth of July, or in August when college kids are getting ready to head back to school.

16. Don’t Fall for the “Great for Dorms” Tags

Be wary of items labeled as ideal for dorms. These may be marked up and it may be possible to find a less-expensive counterpart that isn’t necessarily marketed for college dorm rooms.

17. Do Price Matching

Look into the prices of products at different stores to make sure you’re getting the best deal. If you find a lower price at another store, ask your preferred store if they will match the other deal. Many will.

18. Use Your College ID for Discounts

If you already have your student ID, you may be able to snag some bargains on college dorm essentials from some local stores. Keep your ID on you at all times when you’re out and about and shopping for the school year.

Recommended: 10 Money Management Tips for College Students

19. Create a Budget

Come up with a budget for your college dorm checklist and then stick to it. When you go shopping without a set college shopping budget, you could end up spending way too much.

20. Look for Hand-Me-Downs

Did your siblings go to college? How about your friends? They may have dorm room essentials they’re no longer using and would be happy to give them to you. Ask around and see if they have anything they’re willing to pass on before you spend money.

21. Check in With Your Roommate

If you coordinate with your roommate on things you need to buy, you can save money. For instance, maybe they’re willing to buy some cleaning supplies if you provide snacks or bring a vacuum.

Recommended: College Freshman Checklist for the Upcoming School Year

22. Try Thrift Stores

Check out your local thrift stores and hunt down bargains on dorm room essentials.

23. Buy on Facebook Marketplace

You can also find deals on Facebook Marketplace. Log on and search for deals near your home or college, or find sellers who are willing to ship your dorm room essentials to you.

24. Use Craigslist

When figuring out what to buy for college dorms, you might also check out Craigslist for local items for sale. Don’t be afraid to haggle to pay the prices you can actually afford for your college dorm stuff.

25. Shop with Cash Back Websites

Take a look at sites like Rakuten or Upromise that allow account holders to earn rewards on purchases. You can shop for dorm room items and earn cashback or other rewards on the items you were already planning to buy.

26. Use Gift Cards

Did you receive gift cards from family members and friends when you graduated from high school? Then put them towards your college dorm checklist so you don’t have to spend your own money on items.

Recommended: Top Gifts for College Students

27. Start a Registry

Your family and friends may want to contribute and purchase some of your dorm room essentials for you. Stores like Walmart, and Target make it easy to start a college dorm registry you can share with your loved ones.

28. Look for Free Shipping

Look for free shipping to avoid expensive shipping costs. If you’re going to college far away from home, double check that the stores you are ordering from offer free shipping to that location.

29. Wait to Shop

If you’re on the fence about some purchases, wait until you move into the dorm. This way you can avoid spending money on something you won’t actually use.

30. Rent Instead of Buying

Sometimes, colleges will offer you the chance to rent bigger ticket items, like a minifridge, for your dorm room. If you price it out, you may find this is cheaper than buying the item, especially if you split the rental cost with your roommate.

31. Shop With Friends

You might want to get a group of friends together to go shopping together. You can share tips and possibly get better deals by purchasing in bulk and splitting up what you buy.

32. Sign Up for Stores’ Email Lists

Stores send coupons, sale alerts, and more out to their mailing lists. Consider signing up for the mailing list for stores at which you plan to do a considerable amount of dorm room shopping.

33. Set Up Price Alerts

You can set up price alerts through tools like Droplist and CamelCamelCamel to find out when college dorm stuff is going on sale so you know when to purchase it.

Bonus Tip: Best Places to Buy College Stuff

When shopping for college dorm stuff, where you shop can have a big impact on how much you spend, whether you’re shopping online or in person. Here are a few stores that offer a variety of dorm room essentials, typically at competitive prices:

• Amazon

• Target

• Walmart

• Overstock

• Wayfair

• HomeGoods

• Marshalls

• TJ Maxx

• Ross

• The Container Store

• The Dollar Tree


💡 Quick Tip: Need a private student loan to cover your school bills? Because approval for a private student loan is based on creditworthiness, a cosigner may help a student get loan approval and a lower rate.

The Takeaway

Shopping for college dorm room essentials can feel overwhelming, but things like making a list, creating a budget, shopping online with free shipping, and taking advantage of student discounts can help make it more manageable, and more affordable.

Another way to help with college expenses is to take advantage of any financial aid you are eligible for. You apply for aid simply by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year. Your financial aid package may include grants, scholarships, work-study, and federal loans, which can be used for tuition as well as other college expenses.

If you still have gaps in funding, you might also look into private student loans. These are available through banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Rates may be higher than federal loans, but you can often borrow up to the full cost of attendance. Just keep in mind that private loans may not offer the borrower protections — like income-based repayment plans and deferment or forbearance — that automatically come with federal student loans.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

Photo credit: iStock/kali9

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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