How Not To Go Broke Setting Up Your Dorm Room

Going to college is a major family expense. That is why there are over 37 million students and former students holding outstanding student loan debt.
college student in dorm room
By Christie Petersen
Updated on: November 14th, 2022

college student in dorm room Going to college is a major family expense. That is why there are over 37 million students and former students holding outstanding student loan debt. There is no need to break the bank, take out a personal loan to get through setting up your dorm room. The average family of a college freshman is expected to spend over $1,500 on getting their child dorm room set up. We will go through the necessities, the wants, and the little luxuries that you might be able to have.

Living in a dorm room is one of the ways to limit your college expenses, since you do not have to pay for electricity, water, internet or cable. Getting the room set up is where the hidden costs start to pile up. We are going to provide you with some solutions to the problem that plagues most incoming college freshman, “what do I bring and what do I need?” The number one tip is to avoid those Dorm Essentials lists that you see.

Hopefully during your college visit you were able to see the dorm rooms during the tour. Knowing what comes in the room and the size of the room is half the battle. Knowing the available space is important when you have to pack up and move in, bringing more than what is necessary will put you in a bad position. Another good reason to know what comes already in the room is you can decide what you need, if the room comes with a refrigerator or a mini-fridge then you do not have to buy one. If you are unable to fit what you have, many of the items might have to be given away or thrown out. My neighbors in college all showed up with a couch, so there they were in the middle of the parking lot with four couches and only room enough for one.


The essentials you will need for your dorm room are basically the same as what you have in your current bedroom and bathroom at home. So to cut down on the costs, take as much as you can from home without your parents freaking out. Trying not to take all the toilet paper out of the house would be a good idea. Heading to a warehouse club like Costco or Sam’s would be a benefit to get toilet paper, toothpaste, floss, shampoo and soap would help keep costs down and the amount of time you will have to spend running to the store. Picking up some of the essentials before you head to school is another good idea as the stores around campus tend to sell out quickly at the beginning of the year.

There is no need to buy all new linens unless the bed size is different in your dorm room and make sure to bring your pillow. If you have to buy linens, then the best option is the bed-in-a-bag. This comes with all the essentials you need to make your bed. When getting your bedding, one option to look for is under the bed storage, these plastic containers are large, they fit under the bed and are cheaper than buying a dresser. Also collapsible laundry baskets are very helpful and cheap for clothes storage.

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Wants & Luxuries

Setting up your dorm room should not take all of your credit cards to complete. Once you bring as much as you can from home, the next thing to figure out is what else you will need. Keeping things simplified will also help you keep costs down and not going out and buying a 52-inch plasma for you room might be one of the things you will need to avoid. A microwave might come in your room, or might be available on your floor, so purchasing one for you room might be avoidable.

If you have purchased an on-campus meal plan than the food you will need to buy will be limited. Try and find items that do not have to be refrigerated, unless you have one. Only buy what you need and consume to limit wasting what you buy. One of the largest expenses in and out of college is the amount of money wasted on food that is never eaten, as Americans waste up to $2,000 on discarded food.

Most college aged students already have a cell phone, which carries and alarm clock feature, this will save on buying an alarm clock.  Once you get to school and everything is unpacked you can see what you are missing and what else you still need. If you give yourself a few weeks and you have not really needed and item, then you probably will not need it.

Be smart about what you will be purchasing for you dorm room, you do not want to have to get a debt consolidation loan before you make it out of freshman year because you bought an Xbox, a new television, all new clothes, and an iPad.