Eco Back to School: Prepping the Dorm/College Kid

Sending a kid to college is not cheap–tuition costs continue to rise, along with energy and food prices.  The National Retail Federation claims parents and students will spend an average of $808.71 on clothes, electronics, dorm gear and food.  Enviro Girl believes a kid can be outfitted for dorm life on the cheap and keep things green by following the guidelines she did as a college freshman:

1.  Make a checklist for what you NEED.  Don’t impulse shop, stores like Target and Kohl’s have whole aisles dedicated to gleaning your back-to-school dollars on fun and stylish futons, light fixtures, pillows and bedding.  Not everything the store labels as “Must Have” is truly necessary.  The College Board has a decent checklist, but like with any list, Enviro Girl suggests you modify it to your specifications.  For example, many college dorms provide desk lamps and student lounges equipped with nice television sets.  Students should also share resources with roommates.  Back in her day, Enviro Girl brought along a mini-fridge and a tiny TV set.  Her roommate brought a hair dryer and area rug.

2.  Shop for thrift and used goods first.  Enviro Girl snagged her bedding, dorm dishes and a lamp from a church rummage sale.  She spent a whopping $50 on all her furnishings, everything was reused and recycled.  The only “new” stuff in her room were some notebooks, pens, folders and a typewriter.  Her dorm room wasn’t stylish, but Enviro Girl didn’t go to college to set trends, she was pursuing knowledge.  Save your money for tuition and skip buying new.

3.  Get a bus pass, bicycle or moped.  Most college campuses are pedestrian friendly and many are located in cities that provide excellent mass transit options.  Sending a kid to college with a car means paying for parking (very expensive).  If it’s a question of getting a student home for breaks, ride share boards are available on nearly every campus.  College students can almost always get away without owning a car, reducing their pollution and energy consumption and reducing their transportation costs.  Enviro Girl used her two feet and a bicycle for her first few years of college and never needed to drive around the campus at UW-Madison while working on her graduate degree.

4.  Be smart about electronic gadgetry.  Almost every college student will require a laptop and phone, but as electronics bundle applications, many other devices may be unnecessary.  If you have a phone, for example, you probably don’t need toy buy a camera or an alarm clock.  If you have a computer and internet access, you probably won’t require a TV, stereo or DVD player.  Less can definitely be more on the technology front.  By using fewer devices, you save money and reduce energy consumption.

5.  Rent books, borrow books, buy used books or download books using an e-reader.  There are very few instances when a student should need to buy a brand new textbook.

6.  Get in the habit of healthy snacking.  The cost of late night pizza delivery and burger runs add up quickly.  Healthy food like carrot sticks, granola, cheese, fruit, popcorn, pretzels and nuts pack more nutrition and result in less wasteful packaging when bought in bulk and stored in old Tupperware containers.  Investing in a good BPA-free water bottle, even one with a filter, will only cost a fraction of what soda or Gatorade costs.

7.  Start skimping on your cosmetics and clothing budget.  It’s college, not a fashion show.  You don’t need to spend money on brand names, you can save money and look stylish by shopping consignment or thrift stores.

For more tips on this subject, check out: Back to School Shopping: 5 things NOT to buy

4 thoughts on “Eco Back to School: Prepping the Dorm/College Kid

  1. Thanks for the great post. I have two sons leaving for college in a couple of weeks…not only am I dreading them leaving; I am dreading the bills. This was a wonderful reminder of ways to fill their room (that they are sharing). Interestingly enough (and I would love feedback on this), the college put out a list of things they could get through a company affiliated with them so the bedding would for sure fit the extra long beds. Looked to be a pretty good deal for new, but not so good if your used to shopping at Thrift. Off to Goodwill tomorrow when we have our last dentist appointment!

    • One solution might be to use a regular FLAT sheet to cover the mattress. While on vacation this summer, we had to provide our own bedding and in order to save space and confusion, we only packed flat sheets instead of fitted and found all of the beds could be covered with the ends tucked under–from single to queen sized. I recall finding extra long sheets at Kmart back in the day–the thread count wasn’t high, but the mattress got covered…

  2. Re-use, re-use, and re-use! Even when La Petite moved from her dorm into an apartment, we found so much at thrift stores and in our own cupboards that almost nothing was new.

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