During the K-5 years, back-to-school shopping means crayons, pencils, pens, new folders, notebooks and pretty much anything with bright colors in the "school supplies" aisle. In college, things get complicated as the shopping experience branches out to other departments at the local big-box store. That's doubly true for students moving into the dorms.
New sheets, clothes, desk lamps -- you need to furnish a tiny room. But the list also includes appliances to help the cooking, cleaning and general living process go smoothly. Here are a few suggestions of what to keep in mind while shopping for a recent graduate.
The tiny kitchen
Dorm life, unless you get lucky, means adjusting to miniature versions of everything. The beds are smaller, there isn't as much closet space, and, needless to say, you're sharing all of those smaller things with other people. So, unsurprisingly, it means that you're going to need a tiny kitchen.
Of course, the essential appliance is the tiny refrigerator. The mini fridge is an appliance that can really put a dent in the wallet. However, there are a couple of notable and cheap options for $90. Amazon offers a fairly standard Haier stainless steel refrigerator and freezer. But for a bit more flair on the fridge, Target stocks the Emerson compact fridge, which has a dry erase board on the door.
Obviously there's more to it than just a refrigerator. And because a dorm doesn't come equipped with a working stove, dorm cooking doesn't tend to be too advanced. So how about a microwave? There are some surprisingly cheap options here. Target has a $40 microwave, Dorm Co has one for $75, and Amazon features one for $90.
But the tiny kitchen doesn't have to end with a fridge and a microwave. Dorm Co has a full page of options: toasters, hot plates, grills, hot pots, coffee pots, popcorn poppers and more. But before you run out and buy all of those things, make sure the dorm allows the heavy artillery. Also, make sure you have the space.
Stocking the desk
Hopefully, the dorm is supplying a desk. After all, students have work to do (supposedly). Clearly, the studying space is going to need stocking.
The staple of most dorm desks is that thing that gets you up in the morning: the alarm clock. Amazon has an entire page of selections, including the $36 iLive alarm clock, which is iPod compatible (but not with an iPod Touch, iPhone or other devices, which might explain why it's less expensive). But for an even more old school alarm clock, Bed Bath & Beyond has a classic bell alarm for $15 and a classic "BEEP" buzzer for $10.
Every desk needs a lamp, which Amazon has covered, as well. For vintage or handmade lamps, Etsy is always a great place to look-- check out this $15 vintage lamp, for example. And hey, if you're really looking to save a few dollars, Bed Bath & Beyond has one for five bucks.
And obviously, there's more to consider. Math students need to check out calculators, and obviously, there's that whole computer issue to consider, too.
Dorm life can be cramped and uncomfortable. Got a messy, loud or odorous roommate? Sorry about that. But you've got to do your best to stay comfortable in close-quarters.
Some dorms maintain the stereotype of being stuffy or hot. So it's important to remember to grab a fan to keep the room cool. For traditionalists and old-timers, there's the obligatory white box fan, which takes up space but gets the job done (like this one for $15 from Home Depot). But for a much smaller, sleeker, interesting option, Walmart has the Vornado air circulator (which comes in a fancy-pants raspberry color).
And don't be the messy roommate. Bring a vacuum. And yeah, you can bring a full-size vacuum and be the envy of everyone else in the dorm, or you could save some space by bringing a dust buster. Cookware.com has the classic Dirt Devil handheld for $50, and Buy.com has a "quick flip" vacuum for $36. And, again, Amazon has a full page of suggestions. And if you're considering getting the pet hair eraser that Amazon recommends because your roommate "can't live without his cat," maybe look into a different living arrangement.
Evan Minsker's Thrifty Tech appears Tuesdays. Got a hot, cheap-tech tip, question or comment? Write to Evan via our email address, MoneyCollege@WalletPop.com.
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