Published July 18, 2014
We'll let you in on a little secret that "they" don't want you to know: College is expensive!
But seriously, it's not just tuition, either. Chances are your child will also have to buy books (which are increasing in price faster than tuition!), new clothes,
kegs of beer, and even some housewares to furnish a dorm room or apartment.
With all this spending going on, the line between "need" and "want" can get a little blurred. Though ultimately a lot of these expenditures are up to the parental unit, we've put together a list of things that you might think a college student needs, but that you could easily avoid buying for back to school all together, if you're trying to save as much money as possible. (And while you're at it, check out all our back-to-school guides for further buying advice.)
1. A Printer
Parents: Since your time at college, most schools have entered what is now being referred to as "the digital age." That means that professors increasingly accept, or even prefer, papers and assignments delivered paperlessly via email. Outside of home-made fliers for frat parties, modern students may find that they never have to print a single piece of paper, so why invest in a printer?
Sure, they might run into that one, ancient, crusty old professor who quips "I've never had to reboot a pencil!" as he glares at all the laptops he's seeing, but most schools offer printing facilities that are either free or cheap to use.
2. A Tablet
Unless their major is Pharmacology, your average kid can get through their entire college career without having to touch a tablet. Why? Because there are currently two types of tablets that you can buy for a student: super cheap ones that can't replace a laptop in functionality, and ones that can handle more advanced tasks — like the new Windows Surface Pros — but are super expensive.
The days of tablet-based computing for students are coming, but they're just not here yet. Until then, tablets aren't necessary when you have a relatively well-equipped laptop.
3. Expensive Bedding
Even if your teen's college isn't one that stocks its dorm rooms with extra long mattresses (which are more common than you think), you shouldn't invest in any particularly special bedding. Bobby and his friends are probably going to destroy the whole setup by eating and drinking recklessly on his bed with great frequency, so grab the bargain bin bedding deals instead of the 600-thread count sheets.
Your kid is going to have to buy all new bedding after he graduates, anyway, so why spend a lot on something that is, for all intents and purposes, disposable?
4. An HDTV
As old people, you might think that your kid will need a TV to watch NBC's Must See TV on Thursday night, but the times, they are a-changin'! Heck, we're pretty sure that millennials don't even watch TV on TVs anymore. These Internet-agers tend to consume their shows and movies via Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and the like, so a laptop is all they'll need.
If they do want to watch something on broadcast TV like us old folks, most colleges have TVs located in common rooms or other meeting areas. If your kid says she needs a TV for playing video games, it's OK to remind her that college is for studying. But if you're just a big softie who can't say no, consider giving her a hand-me-down set, instead of a new one.
5. An Iron and Ironing Board
No college student has ever been seen using an ironing board. Ever. If you don't want your kid to look like a rumpled mess, it may be smarter to buy a wardrobe of wrinkle-free clothes.
Speaking of clothes, can we be "real" for a minute? "The Freshman 15" is when kids, alone and unguided in their eating (and drinking) habits for the first time ever, tend to over-do it a bit at the dining halls. The result: packing on about 15 pounds in the first year.
We're not saying it'll happen to your kid, but just in case, why not save the majority of the "off to school" wardrobe budget for after their weight settles? Buy clothes too soon, and you'll be re-buying them a year later, once your young one discovers their meal plan entitles them to all-they-can-eat frozen yogurt.
7. A High-End Laptop
Our unscientific estimate shows that 99% of all college students use their laptop for little more than word processing, Wikipedia-ing, and watching YouTube. These kids don't need eight cores of processing power to put words onto the screen.
Moreover, since laptops have become lighter and more portable, they're being brought far and wide, but lugging a laptop all over campus means an increased likeliness of damage. Would you rather receive a phone call from your kid telling you that he spilled a can of Mr. Pibb onto a cheap-o laptop or a high-end model?
8. A Mini Fridge
No, not all kids are lazy. But which do you feel a college student is more apt to do: 1) Take an hour out of their busy schedule to walk to the local supermarket and choose healthy and nutritious items to snack on throughout the week, or 2) stumble out of bed at 1 pm, or whenever hunger makes them get up, and hit the dining halls? If you answered "1", then you have either raised a robot, or you've never met a teenager.
A student's only real need for in-room cold-storage will mostly apply to the occasional leftovers and carton of milk, and those can easily be kept in a communal fridge, anyway. Save a couple bucks and pass on the mini fridge rental option that many schools offer, and certainly avoid on buying one, since your kid likely won't have a use for a refrigerator that can only hold a single frozen pizza after college.
9. An External Hard Drive
Cloud storage is free and plentiful. Just by signing up for Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive alone, your student can have access to 30GB of free cloud storage! Add in Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive, Apple iCloud, and a host of smaller services, and you're pushing almost 100GB of storage for free. And it can't be stolen or lost or broken, either.
If your response was, "What about for laptop backup and crash recovery purposes?!" then know this: College students will remember to backup their laptop as often as they remember to iron their clothes.
10. An Apple iPhone
Though not typically considered a back-to-school item, if your kid just happens to need a new iPhone right before school starts, we suggest you hold off. Not only do new iPhone models tend to be released shortly after school is in session, but our deal archives also show that whenever Apple announces a new product, current generation Apple devices fall in price. It's well within your right, as a parent, to force your kid to use his (gasp!) old iPhone until that happens.
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