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07/30/2013 11:38 am ET

6 Ways To Cut College Shopping Costs

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By Marisa Tesoro

College can seem like a never-ending shopping spree… in a bad way. Up until this point in your academic career, all you had to worry about was buying new school supplies and maybe a new backpack or outfit here and there. But with college comes a whole new lifestyle, and the costs of that new lifestyle can add up. Follow these tips to help you stay on budget in style and avoid stealing plastic utensils from the dining halls!

1. Make a list.

The best way to make sure you don’t overbuy and spend money on random “essentials” is to figure out exactly what your essentials are for dorm life.

When shopping for college, it becomes super easy to get distracted by advertisements and offers for things that sound like necessities but that you don’t really need. To avoid overspending, create a master list of dorm essentials. While you’re still living at home, as you get ready each day and go through your daily routine, add to that list what you will continue to use in college. By keeping track of all the things you need to buy for your new lifestyle, you won’t be blinded buy all the so-called college necessities sold in department stores. When shopping, stick to your list to prevent yourself from buying things that you don’t need. This will help you avoid overspending on random, semi-useless items, while also keeping track of purchases.

Once you start packing all of your college goods, it’s so easy for the little things like nail clippers to slip through the cracks. Keep that from happening by creating your master list!

2. “Shop” at home first.

Who says you have to have everything brand new? Take the list you just created and identify any of the items that you already have in your house that you can bring with you to college.

One of the most overlooked items on college shopping lists is school supplies. When you start to worry about buying new items like a shower caddy and a closet-size vacuum cleaner, you might forget about regular school supplies. But, by starting your college shopping trip at home, not only will you save money, but you will also be less likely to forget such essentials as writing utensils!

Scour your house for unused school supplies like notebooks, pencils, pens, binders, and folders. Kara, a sophomore at the University of Missouri, says this helps her save money while back-to-school shopping. “If you have any… school supplies at home, bring them with you. Buying school supplies from the campus bookstore is a rip-off, so I made sure to bring my school supplies with me,” she says. Over the years, school supplies tend to accumulate in random storage spaces around your house. While you may not want to revive the Lisa Frank era of elementary school supplies, the stack of generic colored notebooks you may find under your sister’s bed could be useful in college.

As you will find out, there is no must-have school supply list in college. Many professors will announce required course materials on the first day of class, but it’s up to you decide what works. So collect a few notebooks and folders from home until you figure out what you really need for each of your classes.

3. Don’t discount the discount stores.

Dorm life is not supposed to be glamorous, but you definitely don't need to rough it, either. To find the best of both worlds, shop at discount stores: they are your not-so-secret weapon!

While department stores offer “back-to-college” sales and doorbuster deals, they also attract huge crowds. Walking around with a long list of things to buy for a new chapter of your life in a jam-packed department store aisle is not good for anyone.

Instead, avoid the herd and shop as much as you can in stores that always have good prices, like T.J.Maxx, Marshalls, and HomeGoods. That’s what Alix, a sophomore at the University of Missouri, did. “I got all of my bedding from T.J.Maxx,” she says. In addition to comforters and sheets, these discount stores also offer great prices for items like rugs, lamps, dishes, storage containers, and wall decorations.

Click here to read the full story on HerCampus.com.

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