Start Here » Tips » Education » Before Dorm Shopping These 22 Tips Will Help You Save

Saving with TaLis is a reader supported website and may earn a small commission from affiliate links in some articles. Please read my full disclosure HERE. Thank you.

Before Dorm Shopping These 22 Tips Will Help You Save

Before you start shopping for dorm essentials, knowing these shopping tips will save you money

A dorm room essentials shopping list is no only quite extensive but also expensive. However, with this money saving shopping guide it won’t be.

  1. Before you begin shopping – what’s your college dorm room shopping budget? Without a budget you can easily and quickly spend thousands. If you don’t already have one, start by creating one. However, without know what is the average cost of dorm room supplies, its difficult.

How much people generally spend outfitting a college dorm varies. Prices fluctuate based on the month you shop as well as the area. To get an idea of how much things on the college dorm checklist cost, at the very end of this post I’ve included a list of college essentials items for you to see real time prices and any current savings being offered.

Generally, people spend between $500 to $1500, based on what need to be bought. For example, you may not need to buy school supplies like pencils, backpack or a new laptop.

  1. You can create a college shopping budget in a couple of ways:
    • Allocate spending by categories. Some items are must-haves for the dorm, while others are not.
    • Or you can just allocate a total amount to spend and deduct as you shop.
    • To stay within budget, keep track of what you’re spending as you’re shopping. Use an app like Wismo for example, which track your daily expenses and lets you see how much you have left to spend. Or create an Excel spreadsheet to track your budget manually.

  1. Do a physical or virtual tour of the college dorm before shopping if possible. This will give you a better idea of what you may or may not need to add to your college checklist. For example, you may not need to buy bathroom cleaning supplies for the dorm building has communal bathrooms.
  2. One of the first steps for saving money college dorm shopping should be looking at store sales. Search the clearance section for discounts and deals as well. Whether online or in-store look there first.

Related: College Essentials Deals & Ideas

  1. The days leading up to moving day can be overwhelming if you leave your college shopping for the last minute. Start shopping early. College shopping starts in late June, around the time when the 4th of July sales begin. Its been my experience that retailers often run early season deals that are better than ‘during the season’ deals. They want to get merchandise moving and avoid left over merchandise. In addition, shopping early means avoiding the shopping crowd and getting what you want rather than left over merchandise. Back to school season starts in mid-July. This is the time to shop for notebooks, backpacks, pencils and other school supplies. August is the best time to shop for electronics.
  1. Store coupons and promo codes are additional ways to save money. These may also be applied to sales and clearance items as well. Where to find store coupons & promo codes? You can find store coupons by signing up for the store’s newsletter.
    • Bed Bath & Beyond for example, always offers a 20% off coupon which you can get one by signing up for text alerts as well as for their newsletter. Get them monthly via email or mailed to your home. Savings tip: some BBB stores allow a 20% coupon to be used per item and also allows manufacturer coupons. This policy is different per store however. Check your local store first.
    • Amazon shopper? Click on “coupons” in the menu bar and promo codes for steep discounts here.
  2. Department stores prepare for the college shopping season and make it easier to shop for items on the college list by having a dedicated Dorm Essentials section, tab or page. This makes it easier to focus on items you need for your dorm and narrow down what is the best price for an item on your shopping list.


How to find the best price shopping for college essentials at Target

Department stores make it easy to help find what you need by breaking things down by category. As a consumer who wants the best price, you have to do the footwork to find the best deals for items on your list. If you’re going to be shopping at Target for your college essentials head over to the obvious “Deals Tab” and click on “Top Deals“. This will bring up all the sales for that week within a category.

personal items essentials at Target

Tip: If you have a Target account – sign in. This will bring up Target weekly offers exclusive for you. Add to your account for automatic savings.

From the “Deals tab” select Target Circle Offers. Also broken down by categories, Target Circle offers are coupons and discounts that you can apply to your cart for extra savings. Search by newest, expiring soon or discount amount in addition to sub-categories. Also, check Target’s weekly ad for coupons too. These coupons can also be added directly to your Target account or downloaded to your phone by texting 827438.

Additionally, when you pay with Target’s credit card you get an extra 5% discount and free shipping.

Target also makes it convenient to shop when creating a college registry.



  1. Listed above are the typical ‘go-to’ stores most people head to when it comes to shopping for college. However, don’t overlook the ‘not so common stores‘ for deals too. Stores like Wayfair & Overstock. often run fantastic sales, which in many cases have a lower price on the same merchandise. My favorite part about these stores: free shipping too. The name Overstock is deceiving though. They don’t sell ‘left-over overstocked merchandise. Overstock sells products made for them and/or directly from manufacturer as well as manage inventory for other retailers. This allows them to have pretty good discounts.
  2. Take advantage of college student deals:

Several stores have dedicated sections and savings exclusively for college students.

  • Amazon offers College students 50% off Amazon Prime for 6 months. Sign up with your college email to get the college student discount which gives access to all of Amazon deals and benefits with free 2 day shipping among others.
  • Best Buy has exclusive deals for college students to save on laptops and other electronics. Simply sign up for a free Best Buy membership and then complete the College Student Deals sign up. Indicate whether you’re a parent or a student and get immediate access to college student discounts.

  1. Make it easier for family and friends who want to contribute by starting a registry. This is a fantastic way to save money as well. Just about every major department store has the option for shoppers to create a registry. The best stores to create a college registries are Bed Bath and Beyond, Target, & Dormco because you can find everything you need to head off to college.
  2. Consider your shopping style when it comes to saving money. If you don’t have much patience when it comes to shopping, imagine shopping with a long list of dorm essentials. Eventually you just want to get done and grab whatever. Unfortunately, ‘whatever’ may not always be the best price or save money.

Thus, if shopping is not your thing or you don’t have time to shop, consider the following tips to help you stay within budget:

12. Is shopping not your thing?

  • One stop shops like Target and Walmart add a time saver factor when shopping for college. They sell everything from toilet paper to grocery and bedding. All the items on your list are available under one roof.
  • Break up your college shopping list into sections and do bits of shopping at a time. This allows you to focus on getting what you need as well as price.
  • For people who are not fans of shopping at all there’s the option to have someone do the shopping for you and avoid the shopping hassle altogether. People that use Shipt delivery service for example, have someone do the shopping for them and deliver it to their door. What’s cool about Shipt is that users communicate with their shoppers while they’re at the store. In addition, with Shipt you can shop for just about anything through the Shipt app and opt for delivery to your dorm. Shipt is also a convenient shopping service for students throughout the school year as well. Especially around finals when time is used for studying instead of grocery shopping, or for students who don’t have a car to go shopping.
  • Creating a college registry serves the dual purpose of saving money by inviting your friends and family to make gifts, but also by saving time. Shopping online with a registry makes it easier for people who don’t care for shopping or don’t have time to shop. Its a 3 step process where you ‘search-choose-add to the list. Well, 4 if you cout checkout.
  1. Avoid getting ‘hangry‘. Eat before going shopping or take a break when you’re shopping. Hunger and shopping are part of the recipe for an unpleasant shopping experience no matter what you’re shopping for. If you’re shopping time is limited grab a healthy snack bar or something that will hold you until you can eat.

Whether you’re in a college dorm or on/off campus apartment, you’ll likely have limited space. The following dorm room packing list includes tips and ideas to save money when dorm room shopping. In addition, it includes tips to make the most of dorm room space.



College checklist guide – what to bring to your small college dorm room or campus apartment

🔲 #1 on everyone’s list is masks. Whether you’re staying on campus or not, due to the pandemic masks are required everywhere on campus. If its not, consider protecting your health and get one anyway. How many masks to bring to college? A box of 50 disposables, or 5 reusable masks, or a combination of both. (if you’re a parent reading this, your best bet is to ask your student which they prefer).

Must Have Dorm Essentials

These are the main things every college student needs for the dorm or campus apartment. Whether its the first year in a dorm or going back to college, this list is always the same.

Linens & accessories for dorms

🔲 Extra long twin sheets – Twin XL sheets

🔲 Pillow

🔲 Pillowcase

🔲 Bedspread

🔲 Blankets

🔲 Waterproof Mattress pad

🔲 Mattress topper

14. Bedding essentials shopping tip:

  • Some bedding items may cost more when purchased separately, buying a bundle set may be cost effective. Comforter sets for Twin XL typically include a pillow sham and comforter.
    • At Dormify for example, you can find the whole bedding ensemble which include comforter, sheets, pillows, in addition to towel sets.
    • OCM.com also carries complete college dorm essentials sets that range from basic dorm room starter sets to the “ultimate dorm room collection sets”. OCM complete sets include a lot of the things you need for dorm living in addition the basic must-haves for your dorm. It includes items like fans, lamps as well. Check off the college checklist is a snap! (search for Value Paks on their site or OCM on Amazon).
    • I find that Dormco.com is the ultimate when it comes to finding dorm essential sets. They have several types of package bundles to choose from based on dorm necessities categories. For example, if you’re searching for dorm room storage, they have a 10pc dorm organization set that’s complete with laundry bag, door shoe pocket holders, or a basic 4 box storage set.
    • The Container Store – the ultimate storage and everything organization store also sells college starter kits featuring kits for dorm closets, under bed storage, college kitchen organization among others.
college dorm bundle set with sheets and towels
ultimate college essentials set includes everything you need for your dorm room

  • A mattress topper isn’t always needed. However, this adds extra comfort and thickness to your dorm bed. If you’re using one, you may have to purchase extra deep sheets.
  • Some dorms have sheet size 78″, but generally the Twin XL is 80″. Consult the college’s resident dorm coordinator to ensure bed size. My local University is rumored to have Queen size beds. (The building is being renovated, so we’ll see).

Bathroom Items

🔲 Towels

🔲 Washcloths

🔲 Shower shoes

🔲 Hand soap & sanitizer

🔲 Bathrobe

🔲 Shower caddy

Personal Items

🔲 Hairdryer/Flat Iron/Hair

🔲 Personal toiletries ( e. g. bar soap, body wash, shampoo, etc.)

🔲 Sanitary napkins

🔲 Shaving essentials

🔲 First Aid Kit

🔲 Manicure kit (nail clippers, nail files, etc.)

15. Personal essentials for the dorm – shopping tip:

  • Travel size toiletries are easier to carry and are great space savers, but they’re not cost efficient. As an alternative, you can refill smaller bottles for toiletries like conditioner and lotion, which you don’t need a ton of.

Room/Cleaning Supplies

🔲 paper towels

🔲 Toilet paper

🔲Cleaning wipes

🔲 Broom, dustpan, mop

16. Dorm cleaning shopping tip:

  • coordinate with your roommate. Save money, save space and avoid doubling up on the same item.

Laundry Items

🔲 Laundry bag/hamper

🔲 Laundry detergent (note some colleges do not recommend laundry pods for safety reasons)

🔲 Fabric Softener

🔲 Hangers

🔲 Iron and ironing board are often recommended.

17. Dorm laundry shopping tips:

  • collapsible hampers are the best choice as well as space saver. Consider something that is lightweight and easy to carry. For example, the collapsible white basket below is really popular, but weighs 3.24lbs.
  • If your clothes don’t get ironed at home, don’t bother bringing an iron to college. If you do need to iron something, ask someone living in the dorm.
  • Use space saving hangers that can hold more than one garment

Kitchen & Food

🔲 Ziplock bags

🔲 Napkins

🔲 Salt & pepper

🔲 Dish detergent/sponge

🔲 Water bottle

🔲 Mug

18. Shopping tip for dorm kitchen items

  • Whether you dorm has a kitchen area, or you’re lucky to have a dorm suite setup with a common area that includes a small kitchenette, the above is always handy.
  • Ordering take-out? Save extra napkins, condiments, etc. you get from food deliveries. They come in handy for any impromptu dorm eating.

Room Convenience

🔲 Mini refrigerator (1 per room, max size: 5 Cubic Ft)

🔲 Microwave (1 per room, 1000 watts or less)

🔲 Extension cord

🔲 Charging accessories

🔲 Clock/Alarm clock

🔲 Wake up light

🔲 Coffee maker

19. Tips regarding dorm room comforts

  • Always check with the college for what is or isn’t allowed. There may be restrictions or requirements for certain items, or the common areas may have some of the items listed above.

School Supplies

🔲 Personal computer

🔲 Tablet

🔲 Desk lamp/task lighting

🔲 Pens/pencils/highlighters

🔲 Notebooks

🔲 Backpack

🔲 Alarm clock

🔲 Power strip with built-in breaker

🔲Binder

🔲 Backpack

🔲 Laptop

🔲 Scissors, paper clip, staples, stapler

🔲 Scientific calculator

20. Shopping for school supplies tips

  • Check your house for back to school supplies. Pencils, staplers, paper clips, etc.
  • Take advantage of the ‘back to school sales’. The best deals appear weekly at Staples and Office Depot in addition to Target and Walmart. Weekly deals change every Sundays and deep discounts on select items vary per week. For example, one week you can score binders for $1, and the next week score notebooks for $0.10.

Storage Ideas

🔲 Stackable bins

🔲 Multi-function organizers

21. Dorm organization tips

  • Go vertical! Stacking bins one on top of another, rather than next to each other.
  • Maximize space by considering items that serve a dual purpose. For example, lamps that also have a USB outlet.
  • Collapsible storage is great but consider their material and weight.
The Container Store

The following items are part of what I designate as the ‘I may not need it for the dorm, but it makes living in a dorm and getting around campus much easier‘ list.

Maybes

🔲 Dolly or handcart. Your college may or may not provide carts to help you move in. Check ahead.

🔲 Small fan

🔲 Small heater

🔲 Insurance – If you’re staying off-campus, you may want to consider rental insurance

🔲 Umbrella

🔲 Iron/ Ironing board

🔲 First Aide kit

🔲 Room Decor

🔲 Nails, hammer, screws, permanent adhesives

Dorm moving & packing essentials

🔲 Moving boxes

🔲 Bubble wrap, wrapping paper, cushion paper

🔲 Shipping tape

🔲 Sharpie


The following are items that aren’t a necessity for the college dorm, but useful for campus living. College is a time for learning, but make it fun. Bring some games to enjoy socializing with college friends and roommates, and also for taking a break. Remember that life is about the journey, not the destination.

Fun Stuff

🔲 Games (game console, table games)

🔲Headphones

🔲 Streaming service

22. Subscription freebies tips

A TV isn’t a college-must have anymore. You can tv shows with a streaming service on your laptop. Some channels are available for free, while some require a subscription services. For example, Redbox has a free live tv service that doesn’t require a subscription. Additionally, it also has a movie and game rental service as well as a streaming on-demand service that’s a ‘pay as you use’ model.

What streaming services offer freebies? Amazon Prime Students includes not only a discounted membership for 6 months, but also comes with free stream TV shows, movies, and ad-free music, plus, you get to pick up free games and loot every month.


Valuables & Personal Information

🔲 ID

🔲 Cash

🔲 Credit Card

🔲 Wallet


College move in day can be fun and exhausting. There’s tons of people moving in at the same time, going back and forth with luggage and boxes with all the essentials needed for your new home this college semester.

During the pandemic however, adjusting to campus life will be challenging, and there will be lost of changes along the way. Don’t fret if you forget something on your checklist. You can always get it later, (along with care packages from family and friends).

Focus instead on a memorable day. College move in day is mostly joyfully-sad.

For a college freshman, its the day when you officially start ‘adulting’. However, the same goes for the college senior who is facing the last year of their undergraduate years. For parents, its a day when you send off your grown offspring to fly on their own.

Whether your’e a parent or a student, the first day of campus living brings different emotions. But no matter how often you do the move-in/out of college, its always exciting to start campus life and set the course for a career. Enjoy!

Happy savings, TaLis

23. Dorm Shopping Deals & Ideas

students moving in to college

I hope the above list helps you save money checking off your college checklist.

Happy savings, TaLis

Some graphics made with Canva.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *