If You’re Buying These 17 Items for College, You’re Just Wasting Money
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Living alone for the first time ever.
Finally being able to stay up as late as you want, studying — at least ostensibly — between bouts of laughter with newfound friends.
Figuring out how to feed yourself without mom’s cooking to fall back on. (Hint: You cannot subsist on breakfast cereal alone. Trust me.)
These are just a few of a whole bevvy of firsts that come along with going away to college. We don’t have time to list them all here… and besides, there are a number that mom and dad would probably rather not think about.
But there’s another, potentially-less-cheerful first facing most new college students.
Spoiler alert: It’s money. College may well be the first time you’ll be expected to pay your own bills.
And for many, this first foray into financial responsibility can be crippling.
College is Already Expensive Enough
It’s certainly not breaking news that college is expensive. According to Student Loan Hero’s most recent numbers, the average student goes into more than $37,000 of debt trying to afford it.
Obviously, there’s not a whole lot you can do about the cost of tuition — aside from filling out the FAFSA and applying your heart out to every scholarship you can find, that is. (Oh, and choosing a school with great financial aid or relatively low tuition in the first place.)
But there are other expenses you can totally avoid.
It can be easy to be sucked into the urge to buy, buy, buy a bunch of brand-new stuff to haul off to your brand-new, quasi-adult life. (Crazy going-away-to-college shopping lists, like this one, don’t help.)
But despite how it may seem, you don’t actually need to go on a giant shopping spree in order to ensure your success as a college student.
In fact, many of us who did discovered most of that stuff turned out to be a total waste of money…
… but only after we spent it.
17 Things You Actually Don’t Need to Bring to College
Want to save your cash — and your trunk space? Strike these items off your college shopping list immediately.
1. An entire palette of Top Ramen
Listen, I’m not saying you’re not going to eat some serious noodles while you’re in college. It’s a stereotype for a reason.
But if you want to avoid the freshman 15, you’ll need to ditch your Ramen-only diet plan.
Fortunately, there are plenty of dorm-friendly meals you can make for less than $5 a serving, even if you have nothing but a microwave and a mini fridge at your disposal.
Which leads us to our next list item.
2. A mini-fridge
Want to avoid spending a hundred bucks or so on something you likely won’t ever have another use for?
Then don’t buy — or rent — a mini fridge. At least not without checking out your dorm setup first.
In many cases, you’ll have access to a full-sized kitchen — or at the very least a community fridge to service the floor.
And if not? There are tons of healthy snack options that don’t require refrigeration, including protein bars to nuts to jerkey. And room-temperature water won’t kill you — promise!
3. Fancy dorm decor
As anyone who’s ever meandered absently through Target in August knows that this one can be a real budget killer.
But as tempting as that neon pink shag rug or cute succulent display might be, think twice before you indulge your nesting instinct.
“I went crazy ordering decor from Urban Outfitters before moving into my dorm,” confessed Carson Kohler, a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder and Clemson University graduate. “I also paid to get a ton of photos printed.”
“Half of it ended up being stockpiled in my closet and never seeing the light of day.”
Carrie Nowlin, who graduated from Florida College, had a similar case of buyer’s remorse.
“It was just extra stuff to move, and then a waste of money when I threw it out in May,” she explained. “It's a temporary home. Make it your space, sure. But you don't need to splurge.”
(By the way, if you’re looking for non-spendy ways to customize your dorm room, we’ve got you covered — check out these 10 dirt cheap options.)
4. Tons of new clothes
First of all, you’re 18 years old. Your entire style is likely to change over the course of the next four years… or possibly even the next four months.
Second of all, you’re kidding yourself if you think you’re not going to live in yoga pants or basketball shorts all year. No one gets dressed up for class after the first week.
5. A heap of new school supplies, like notebooks, pens and a day planner
Listen, I was one of those crazy-nerdy kids for whom school supply shopping was Christmas-morning-level exciting.
But are you really going to use all those fresh, crisp pages?
“By senior year, I realized that as an English major I could just keep necessary notes in a single book,” said Libby Fackler, who holds an MA in creative writing from Ohio University. “The more schooling I had, the fewer notes I took.”
Other ex-students admitted to purchasing a planner every semester… only to use it for a week, at best.
6. Every single textbook you’re assigned
Your professors might not like this one, but hear me out: there are plenty of ways to read all the assigned material without paying through the nose for brand-new — or even used — textbooks.
If a book is assigned, it’s highly probable the campus library has a copy or six — not to mention the ones other students have purchased. Borrow a friend’s book and take ample notes, or head to the copier bay at the library. Although textbooks are copyrighted, it’s likely alright to make photocopies of small portions under fair use law.
If you do purchase the book, avoid buying new by any means necessary. Here are ten more ways to save money on your college textbooks.
7. A printer
Even if some of your professors still require printed copies (who are these people?), it’s likely your school provides a certain number of printer credits per semester, allowing you to use the library machines for free.
And even if you have to pay per page, trust me: five cents a page is way better than buying replacement toner.
8. A car
Having your own set of wheels is liberating, but it can also be an unnecessary expense when you’ve got everything you need on campus or within easy walking distance. (And don’t forget about Uber and public transit!)
Not only will you have to pay for gas, insurance, registration and possibly an auto loan installment — you’ll also likely be on the hook for a parking space fee from the college. All those auto-related extras can add up quickly, and you’ll probably use your car less often than you imagine.
“I ended up spending about $500 my first semester for a parking space, plus gas, etc,” said The Penny Hoarder’s email marketing specialist, Colleen Rice. “The next semester I took my car home and didn't miss it at all.”
9. A serious calculator if you’re not a STEM major
Here’s some quick math that’s actually useful: Don’t spend $100 on something you’ll only use for one class.
Share with your classmates or make friends with a chemist instead.
10. An external hard drive
Is this even a thing anymore?
It’s definitely crucial to backup your information, but it’s a way better idea to do so on the cloud. Physical hard drives fail, and they’re still surprisingly expensive.
Many schools even offer campus-wide subscriptions to services like Dropbox at a discount or even totally free of charge.
11. Extra bedding
It might be nice to have one backup set for laundry day… but it’s a college reality: You probably won’t change your sheets that often.
That’s alright — for now. You’re only a fledgling adult, and regular bedding changes are a pretty pro adulting maneuver.
12. A whole set of towels
Yes, you need a bath towel or two. But any more than that just eats up valuable storage space.
If you do laundry once a week, you’ll get by just fine with only a couple.
13. A ton of cleaning supplies and other miscellaneous household items
Don’t get me wrong: you should definitely clean your dorm room or suite. Frequently. With bleach-based products.
But if you’re sharing the space, you can also share those cleaning supplies.
“You don't need four brooms in your 12×12 box,” quipped Nowlin. And “even if you don't have to share your bathroom with the whole floor, you'll probably be sharing a shower with at least one person, so you can coordinate and split the cost of things like shower hooks and curtains.”
14. Plates, bowls and cups
More often than not, you’ll be eating at the dining hall — or, honestly, at the local Chipotle. And when you do eat at “home”?
“I just used paper ones to avoid doing dishes,” wrote University of South Florida graduate Brandee Baker.
I guess that’s why college students always have red Solo cups in their pictures…
15. A television
Um, use Netflix on your computer? It’s 2017, people.
16. The all-inclusive dining hall pass
Eating at least a few meals at your college cafeteria is all but unavoidable, but most students don’t live exclusively off dining hall food. It can get old pretty quickly.
“When I went out for orientation, the food was great,” said Florida International University graduate Matthew Borghese.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was a classic bait and switch. The food wasn't as good year-round and instead of having cash to go wherever I wanted, I was now locked into the dining hall for a lot of repetitive, crappy meals.”
Lesson learned: Think carefully about your meal plan and whether or not you’ll regret buying the “deluxe” version.
17. Tickets to every game — unless you’re really a diehard
If you care about sports at all, you should definitely attend at least a few games. It’s a pretty iconic college experience.
But don’t pay for a package of tickets ahead of time unless you’re absolutely certain you’ll follow through.
“I bought a special ‘school spirit’ pass for home sports games with friends,” said The Penny Hoarder’s Editor & Marketing Strategist, Kathleen Garvin. “We decided we'd be all in… and only went to one game.”
Oh, well. College is supposed to be a learning experience, after all.
Disclosure: Clink! Clink! Clink! That’s the sound of pennies hitting our piggy bank, thanks to the affiliate links in this post. It’s a better savings plan than stopping traffic to pick up loose change — and safer, too!
Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) has written for SELF, Ms. Magazine, Roads & Kingdoms, VinePair, The Write Life, Barclaycard’s Travel Blog, Santander Bank’s Prosper and Thrive and other outlets. Her writing focuses on food, wine, travel and frugality.