How to save money on furnishing your college apartment

After shelling out money for tuition, textbooks, and school supplies, it can seem financially daunting to furnish your college apartment. Even if you live in a furnished dorm, you’ll need to bring bedding, towels, lamps, dishes, and utensils, not to mention clothing and snacks. A rental apartment or house will require all of these things in addition to some basic furniture and decor.

Fortunately, college students have options to save money on everything from moving services to pantry staples.

Saving money on the move

Most college students moving into a dorm choose to transport their belongings themselves. However, if you live in an apartment off campus or rent a house, you may want to hire a professional mover.

Request quotes from best long distance moving companies and ask if they have any discounts that apply to your move. Even if they don’t offer student discounts, they may have special rates for small moves or early bookings.

Here are some other ways to save on the move:

  • Book your move as far in advance as possible.
  • Move on a weekday instead of a weekend.
  • Ask local businesses, friends and family for free boxes.
  • Buy furniture at the university instead of moving it from your hometown.
  • Use towels and bedding instead of bubble wrap.
  • Pack everything yourself or ask your friends for help.

If you don’t have many large items to move, you can pack up your car or rent a van instead of hiring a full-service mover. Keep in mind that you must be at least 18 years old to rent a moving truck and some companies may have a higher age requirement.

Saving money on essential items and furniture

Consider what you really need before you buy. Impulse purchases can blow your budget, so make a list and stick to it. Ask family and friends for their input and do some research to make sure your list includes everything you need. Then limit purchases to just those items.

College Apartment Essentials

Here are some of the basics you’ll need for your college apartment. Your list may vary depending on whether you’re moving into a one-bedroom, a studio apartment, or a multi-bedroom rental with roommates.

  • Bedroom furniture: Mattress, box spring, dresser, nightstand, desk, lamp and chair
  • Litter: Mattress cover, sheet set, pillow and duvet
  • Kitchen and living room furniture: Sofa, coffee table, dining table, chairs, TV, media console and lamps
  • Kitchen items: Cutlery, plates, bowls, cups, mugs, serving and cooking utensils, knives, cutting board, mixing bowl, strainer, pots and pans, microwave, toaster/toaster oven, coffee maker, measuring spoons and cups, can opener, cloths kitchenware, oven mitts, and baking utensils
  • Toiletries: Bath towels, hand towel, washcloth, bath mat, toilet paper holder, trash can, toilet brush, plunger, shower curtain, curtain hooks and curtain liner
  • Miscellaneous: Storage bins, trash cans, laundry basket, hangers, vacuum cleaner, mirror, iron and ironing board, and broom and dustpan

Don’t forget about groceries, pantry staples, and items like trash bags, toilet paper, paper towels, toiletries, hand soap, and cleaning solutions.

Ways to save on essential items

Before you buy new essentials, take inventory of what you already have. For example, your family may be happy to let you take your dorm room furniture to college, but be sure to ask rather than assume.

Next, ask your friends and family if they have anything you can take off their hands. For example, if your aunt is buying a new sofa, she may be willing to give you the old one. Or, she may find that her grandparents have some old furniture in their garage or attic.

Here are other ways to save money on essential household items and furnishings:

  • Plan ahead and shop for sales. Keep your shopping list handy and keep an eye out for great deals. For example, you can spend the summer before college browsing garage sales and clearance aisles.
  • Split the costs with a roommate. If you choose to live off campus, find some roommates. With one or more reliable roommates, you can split the cost of housing, food, utilities, and furniture.
  • Buy multi-use items. Multifunctional items allow you to cross two items off your list with one purchase. Examples include storage ottomans, futons, transforming tables, and compact seating. You can also bring this approach to your kitchen with air fryer toaster ovens and Instant Pot-style multipots.
  • Browse outlet stores and thrift stores. You can buy many college essentials at dollar stores, thrift stores, and malls. You can also save money by choosing store brands or generic versions of products.
  • Look for free items. You can often get free furniture and household items through online marketplaces, like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Also, many recycling centers and dumpsters have space set aside for items that residents no longer want but are “too good to throw away.”
  • Store sales and discounts. Retailers have deals for just about every holiday, from Black Friday blockbuster deals to Labor Day mattress sales. Sign up for rewards programs for member-only deals and look for student discounts and great-value coupons.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help too. Chances are you have at least one friend or family member who loves bargain hunting. Get their help while you search for the best prices.

Saving money on additional accessories

Once you cover the basics, you can shift your attention to non-essentials. These include decorations, refreshments, entertainment, and hobbies. Most of the tips above apply when purchasing these items, but here are some additional tips:

  • Learn to make your favorite dishes at home. If you’re craving a particular entree, appetizer, or dessert, look for a copycat recipe. When you can prepare your favorite foods at home, you’ll be less tempted to spend your budget on takeout.
  • Serve sandwiches ahead of time. Buying portioned snacks can be convenient, but it’s not very cost-effective. Instead, use plastic bags to separate full-size packages of chips, nuts, and other snacks into bite-sized portions. Use meal prep containers to make grab-and-go dipping snacks like baby carrots and ranch dressing, apple slices and peanut butter, or pita chips and hummus.
  • DIY your decorations. The internet is full of DIY project tutorials. Use your college apartment as an opportunity to indulge your creative side by making decorations by hand. Look online for inspiration or see if you can recreate an expensive piece you love.
  • Take advantage of free trials and special offers. Most streaming services offer free trials; some even have discounted student plans. Also, theaters often sell discount tickets on a specific day of the week, and amusement parks and other attractions offer season passes and group discounts.

Whatever you like to do in your spare time, you can probably find a way to do it on a budget.

The bottom line: What are the best ways to save money on furnishing your college apartment?

Ultimately, sticking to the essentials is the best way to save money. Create a budget and shopping list and resist the urge to make impulse purchases. Rebates and student discounts are two reliable ways to save. You can also save money by checking out thrift stores and bargain stores first.

With creativity and careful planning, you can get everything you need for your college apartment, and still have a little cash left over for the things you want.

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