NOTE: I apologize for any spelling errors that may occur in this post...college supplies just make me furious! Even spell check can't help my soul.
I've seen how expensive parents can make college out to be. They hurry out and secure overpriced books, supplies, and dorm rooms as if the education apocalypse is knocking down their picket fences. It doesn't have to be this way, does it? College kids don't need the 75-shelved bookcase that folds up into your pocket or the bathrobes or the "super special college dorm room sheet set". They don't even want that shit.
College students want to be shuttled off into the university with the basics. They don't need anything else. After all, we've seen what happens to kids who get everything and earn nothing on their own, haven't we? I have and it's miserable to watch. Every day that I go to the park with my daughter, I can pinpoint which parents are ruining their children with ample amounts of toys, smart phones, etc...what four-year-old needs a scooter and a bicycle at the park? Why the heck did you do that? I see you, and I know that are going to be that parent who buys all that expensive, unnecessary shit for college.
I won't let myself be one of them. Never. I happily restrict my daughter's "purchasing power" (she really has none...I have the debit card, let's all remember who the real boss is here, okay) when we are at the store. She says something like, "I want a new baby." I say, "Then you'll have to give your other baby to another little girl first." Conversation over. The lesson I am teaching her is not frugality; it is a lesson in wants vs. needs, and how to be self-disciplined.
Self-discipline people. It is a beautiful and necessary life skill. Kids just don't have it these days. And it isn't their fault. It's yours. How do you know if you are one of these parents? Ask yourself, 'Do I let my child have anything?" or 'When the newest [insert ridiculous toy brand here] came out, did I let my child have it without donating the old toy?" or 'Does my child have more room in the house than I do?'
That last question is usually the one that proves it all. I was like that for a while. I realized how much "stuff" my daughter amassed over the years from presents and grandma. When I realized that she needed an Ikea space to herself, I knew it was time to teach her about purging and about needs vs. wants. And you know what, she has become more empathetic ever since. She loves donating her old toys to foster homes and donation sites. Of course, that doesn't mean that she doesn't act like a little asshole every now and then when she doesn't get the pie and the cake.
God, this post is supposed to be about college kids and saving cash. Okay, well I can get there from here. All that treatment as a young child translates into the departure from home into college.
Last year, my sister was a college freshman. She was required to live in the dorms unless she lived with a "responsible" guardian. First of all, that is lame because she is incredibly responsible. This isn't the era of Pride and Prejudice, is it? Something about having to send my sister to a dorm turned my mother into one of those parents. She bought the sheet set. She worried if she'd have enough to eat. She bought the shower shoes, the bathrobe, the books from the university bookstore (because what if Amazon didn't have it), and everything else despite my advice.
By the second semester though, she was convinced that she spent too much, and she let me show her how to 'let go' and allow my sister to buy the used textbooks online. My sister gave the bathrobe to her roommate. The sheets that my mother bought were awful.
Parents can avoid all the unnecessary expenses by determining what is a necessity and what is frivolous. Here are my thoughts on necessities:
More and more I am seeing college students attending school without a job. When I went to college as a single parent with ZERO help from anybody, I held down a job, went to school, and breastfed my baby to fullness. Somehow, between nipple chafing and thesis defending, I earned both a B.A.S. and an MFA. If I can do that, then fresh college students without those obligations can hold down a job and go to school. All college students need to have a job. It teaches students how to manage their time and it reduces college debt.
Students can work on or off-campus. If you have a kid who is reluctant to work while in college, you should tell them that you won't help them with expenses unless they get a job. Tell them that they'll have to take on all of the student loan burden, which WILL come back to bite them later when they spend the next 20-30 years repaying their college tuition.
Responsibility is critical. It starts with a job. It starts with looking after yourself. Do not enable your students. Give them freedom and accountability -- they will thank you later in life. The hand holding must stop.
Books are the single most important requirement for school, but they absolutely do not need to be brand new. Never. I've never bought a brand new textbook-- not even for that class that lists the most recent edition only available brand new. Never.
If your student encounters this issue, have her email the professor to see if the prior edition would work because you can't afford the new edition. Most likely, he/she will say yes. University bookstores only make specific editions available to college professors because the are looking to make maximum returns. And if the professor says no, do it anyways.
If your studen'ts teacher requires a special course packet...find out what's in the course packet (probably Xeroxed essays violating copyright anyways) and print them out yourself. Don't let them rip you off.
My favorite places to buy used textbooks are Powell's, Abebooks, Half.com, and Amazon. I have provided the link below so you can save even more money. Amazon Prime for students is brilliant because you get unlimited two-day shipping. You can sign up for free trial and sometimes get the whole year for pretty cheap (call and find out!). Or you can be super frugal, sign up for the trial period, order the books and then cancel it. Depends on your needs, really.
Food is one of those essentials. If your kid is moving into a dorm, find a reasonable meal plan that allows them to eat on campus and off. Most universities require you to purchase a food plan if a student is living on campus. Be careful though, as the higher priced meal plans are really silly and unnecessary. And many schools don't open the mess hall for all meals.
If your kid is living off-campus, give them a $200 gift card to start out and teach them to buy frozen berries and meat to save money. Explain that snacks are unnecessary. If you are super nice, you could offer to get them started, but then after that, they are responsible for replenishing the kitchen. Here are some affordable and healthy meal options:
Breakfast: oatmeal with berries, cold oatmeal, scrambled eggs and veggies, peanut butter banana smoothie, cereal and fruit, nuts and fruit, etc...
Lunch: Sandwiches, soups, salads, dinner leftovers
Dinner: Stews, stir fries, tacos...anything that can turn into lunch the next day
Does your college student need "school" clothes? Probably not. Not unless that person is moving to a new climate, and even then, said child is an adult. This is extraneous.
School Supplies (Necessity)
Target and Staples offer the BEST school supply deals every August. Stock your student with plenty of paper. See if they can get a hold of what they will need for the first semester.
Every semester will be different based on the courses, but purchasing a dozen coil-bound notebooks,4-5 1" binders, and loose leaf paper should be all a kid needs. Science courses will require students to purchase a lab book, coat and goggles...all of these can be purchased on AMAZON for half the cost that the university store offers it at. Again, remember, the university, public or private, is out the get your money.
Home Goods (Frivolous If You Aren't Very Smart)
May I suggest a furnished studio? If not, then the thrift store is the best place to check out. Or Ikea, if you have one nearby.
Really though, you can find furnished studio apartments for just a little bit more money than unfurnished.
For dorm room kids, they shouldn't need anything but the bedding from their bed at home. And maybe some shampoo...don't let those dorm room lists fool you. Your student doesn't need all of that stuff.
Of course, a few plastic storage crates and hangers will be really useful...but stop there.