Going to college is expensive—tuition, fees, room and board, text books, meal plans. Before you even step foot on campus, it’s likely that you’ve already shelled out thousands of dollars for the privilege.
That financial reality can leave the extra things, like making your new dorm room feel like home, feel out of reach. But there’s always a way to make your life a little nicer, even on the cheap. Read on for our top tips for outfitting your dorm on a budget.
Cheap is good; free is better
When it comes to decorations, don’t look down on hand-me-downs. Reconsider an old book shelf from your dad or a dusty wall-hanging from your mom. You can always paint wood furniture or cover outdated upholstery. And the adage “what’s old is new again” is still definitely true, especially when you have no money.
Before you buy anything (seriously, anything) ask around and see if someone has an extra microwave or mini-fridge or even extra hangers lying around.
Be crafty and make things yourself. Not only does this let you really personalize your new space in your new life, it also opens up opportunities for conversation. There’s nothing as satisfying as answering a compliment with “Thanks, I made it myself!”
Truly a budget-friendly option, you only need to spend a little bit on supplies, and then you can create anything from lampshades to curtains to your own artwork. Some other easy DIY ideas include enlarging one of your favorite photos to hand on the wall as a poster or using sidewalk chalk to create an indoor, temporary mural.
Warehouse stores, dollar stores, secondhand shops and yard sales are all good places to find useful items for your new home without shelling out a ton of cash. Furnishing your dorm with cheap things you’re not too attached to is imperative, since your life in college is temporary, and it’s unlikely you’ll end up taking everything you buy now on to the next stage of your life.
Another place you might be able to find what you’re looking for? The dump! We’re serious. If you want to give dumpster diving a try, look out for items that can be put in the washing machine at high heat to kill any germs or hosed down and possibly repainted.
Your dorm is a shared space, so it makes sense to share the cost of its decoration. Sit down with your roommate—or reach out via email if it’s before the semester begins—to see what they are comfortable with in terms of cost and decorations so you’re both on the same page.
Splitting the costs of bigger items, like a rug or a mini-fridge, gives both of your lives an upgrade at a price point you can afford.
One tip before agreeing to going halfsies: make a plan for who gets what when you inevitably move out. Maybe agree to buy out the other half of the mini-fridge or decide to take one of the shared items while your roommate gets the other. Agreeing on this ahead of time is a way to avoid potential future conflict.
Get creative with your art
When it comes to personalizing your space, one of the best ways is by decorating your walls. Adding some color and fun to the new cinderblock expanse you’re suddenly faced with can be easy and cheap. Look for inexpensive frames from somewhere like a dollar store or IKEA, and then search for cheap, downloadable wall art from websites like Etsy.
If you don’t have access to a high-quality printer or aren’t into the vibe of downloaded art, almost anything you put in a frame gets and automatic upgrade. Look for wrapping paper with a pattern you like and frame that, or spend some time making art out of magic markers. Whatever it is, your room will look great and your bank account will look great too.
After putting so much work into making your dorm a beautiful space, that last thing you want is for someone to break in and trash it. Or worse—steal your valuable belongings, like a laptop. Between 2010 and 2012, there were nearly 34,000 robberies in student residences across the nation.
To secure your down, consider installing a door or window alarm and insuring your valuable belongings. Always lock your doors and windows, make sure you know the guest policy in your dorm and put your valuables away when you’re not in the room.
Nothing makes a space feel like yours quite as much as having pictures all around you. An easy way to do this is to bring a bunch of your own printed photos, get some string and clothespins. Then hang the photos with the clothespins from the string. Simple, cheap and all you.