By Elizabeth Sheer, Cheapism.com
After paying for books, not to mention school itself, there isn't much left over for dorm room decor. But consider this a lesson in practicality. Once May rolls around, whatever is in the room must be cleared out, which is a giant incentive to decorate on the cheap. Many retailers -- Target, Walmart, and Ikea, among them -- are now running specials on dorm room gear. Some deals are worthwhile, some aren't. To help you budget wisely we asked several students to specify what they know to be the essentials; we then found promising sources.
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Bedding. No doubt you'll be spending lots of time in and on your bed, so make it attractive. Some students say it's important to coordinate with roommates, others are more individualistic. Target holds the edge in this category with a wild array of comforter sets starting at $18. Look for matching sheets and pillowcase at Walmart, where you'll find 200-count solid-color sets for less than $15. Kmart offers a dorm package -- comforter, sheets, pillowcases, and towels -- with a feminine aesthetic for $40, but the one review for this item notes that the included hamper/storage bin is flimsy. Many dorm rooms are stocked with extra-long beds, and our informants caution that twin sheets and blankets from Ikea don't fit. Bed Bath & Beyond has a clearance bin that often contains good quality sheets and comforters at greatly reduced prices and only sometimes in the X-long size.
Storage. Most dorm room closets and dressers are miniscule, so organizing your wearables is essential. Scarves, for example, can become part of dorm room decor when hung on the wall or draped over the window. If you prefer to store them in a closet, a hanger that holds five scarves ($10 for two at Bed, Bath & Beyond) saves lots of space. Plastic storage cubes that look like dairy crates and tinted plastic stacking drawers, both available at The Container Store ($7 and $14 a piece, respectively), are attractive and practical; one recent grad moved the drawers from dorm room to college apartment to post-college crib. Under-bed storage probably sounds like a good idea, but our student informants suggest reserving that space for suitcases and duffels. It won't go to waste, though, because you can stow out-of-season items in the luggage.
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Walls. You'd think that reminders on your smartphone would ensure everything gets done on time. Not so, students say. A tangible planner, like the semester-at-a-glance dry erase board from PlanetSafe Calendars (priced at $16.50) is a visual memory aid that can hang on the wall. Peel-and-stick wall decals are tempting elements of dorm room decor, but don't go there, students advise. You're sure to accumulate lots of artwork made by friends in addition to your own creative efforts, and cheap posters and postcards are readily available. AllPosters.com is currently hosting a clearance sale, with posters going for as little as $2 a piece. You can also upload photos to the site and have them converted into posters; an 18x24 poster-sized picture costs $21. Most dorms forbid nails or screws in the walls, which makes removable hooks an absolute necessity; Home Depot and many other vendors sell six-packs for less than $10.
Furniture and Accessories. There isn't room for much furniture beyond the supplied basics, but a few of our informants swear by the Lack table from Ikea. It's small enough to be portable, provides an excellent surface for studying while sitting on the floor, and costs $10. Rugs always liven up the dorm room decor but can be pricey. Instead, try a big bath rug; Target has several, in a variety of colors, starting at $15. You'll definitely need a desk lamp for late night study sessions and Ikea is the best source for this. A colorful LED lamp from Sunnan that converts sunlight into electricity costs just $20. (Tip: Regular bulbs may not fit so buy an extra along with the lamp.)
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Appliances. Many small appliances, like coffee pots and toaster ovens, are prohibited while mini-fridges and microwaves usually pass inspection. Some colleges rent fridge/microwave combos, which isn't a bad deal if you don't want to cart a bulky appliance back and forth over summer break. If you opt for one of these big ticket items, spread the cost among the roommates. Dorm-size fridges cost less than $100 and are large enough to accommodate leftover Chinese takeout and beverage cans. Walmart sells a model that sports an ice cube chamber and chalk-board coating, which provides space for your very own dorm room decor doodles. Small microwaves are also budget-friendly and at Walmart you'll find several models with price tags under $50.
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