Dorm Room on a Dime: How to Get the Look for Less

Posted On: July 20, 2023
College students in dorm room - Extraco Banks

Summer is in full gear, but some of you might already be thinking about school in the fall—specifically, college and how to decorate your dorm room when every penny counts.


When you are budget-savvy and looking for stylish living solutions, finding the look for less is top of the to-do list. That’s why we’re digging in to offer hacks and solutions that won’t break the bank. After all, you need a lot to settle in your new dorm, but there’s also a lot you don’t need.

Continue reading the ways to master the art of affordable dorm room interior design, space-saving ideas, and cost-cutting ways to craft a space that aligns with your unique style.

Dorm room: what you get vs. what you need

Although each school and dorm differ, most dorms include the basics: a bed, desk, chest of drawers, bookshelf, lighting, and window coverings.

Some hotels used as dorms may offer additional amenities like a mini fridge, coffee pot, and microwave. So, what should you add to this mix? Here’s a good starting list: 

  • Bedding
  • Towels and toiletries (don’t forget bathroom tissue!)
  • Desk supplies
  • Electronics
  • Basic kitchen essentials and snacks
  • Basic cleaning supplies
  • Storage solutions
  • Clothing and laundry supplies
  • Décor
  • School supplies 

Always check with your school or dorm for anything additional, such as small appliances like toasters, toaster ovens, and mini waffle irons. Your school or dorm may prohibit some items due to fire or other hazards.

Top picks – must-have essentials

Beyond those things you need, we highly recommend a few other essentials. And you don’t have to spend a lot on them. To be prepared for the unexpected, start by putting together a first aid kit with the following:

  • Adhesive bandages
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Burn cream or gel
  • Gauze and medical tape
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Tweezers, scissors, and disposable gloves
  • Pain relievers and antihistamines for allergies or allergic reactions
  • Any prescription medication you routinely use

Here are a few nice-to-have items that should top your list:

  • Power strip for additional outlets
  • Shower shoes for communal bathrooms
  • Mattress topper for added comfort
  • Portable fan for air circulation and white noise
  • Small tool kit for repairs and hanging items
  • Whiteboard or cork board for reminders and organization
  • Noise-canceling headphones for improved focus and to block out distractions

We realize that preparing for a dorm requires a lot. Let’s cover the expected costs next. 

Cost Expectations

Now that we’ve covered what comes with a dorm, what you need, and some additional nice-to-have items, how much can you expect to spend?

The answer depends on your budget. Before factoring in textbooks, which can cost several hundred dollars each semester, you can expect your dorm essentials – at least the initial setup – to run, on average, between $500 and $1,200.

The final tab depends on how lavish you go. For example, when buying bedding, you can often save money by buying a bed-in-a-bag set. These sets usually include one flat sheet, a fitted sheet, two pillowcases, and a matching comforter. Prices vary; some run over $100, but you can find simple sets for $40-$50. Of course, you can save even more by bringing what you have from home.

How to Budget for the Essentials

It pays to shop around. Look for deals online and at local stores. If you have a surplus store near you, check there as well. Sometimes the best deals are at surplus stores, but not always.

Personal décor? If you’re on a tight budget, head to the local thrift shop or dollar store. Then, grab some art supplies. You can transform something old or less attractive into a work of art that fits your style and becomes a unique conversation starter with some DIY know-how.

To increase your funds, consider a summer job or side hustle for those things you must budget for. You can even organize a send-off extravaganza by hosting a yard sale! Embrace the opportunity to declutter while benefiting from the proceeds. Spread the word and advertise this as a win-win situation – others get to enjoy your gently-used items, and you boost your dorm shopping budget. 

The Final Word

From cost-cutting ideas to affordable design, you can craft a dorm room that reflects your unique style. Remember to prioritize the essentials and consider economical options, such as thrift shops and dollar stores, to personalize your space on a budget. Exploring summer jobs, side hustles, and organizing a yard sale can also help increase your dorm shopping funds. 

With these strategies, you can begin your college journey with a well-designed and budget-friendly dorm room.


Additional Resources

College student grocery shopping - Extraco Banks
Maximizing Your Meal Plan: How to Stretch Your College Food Budget
Maximizing Your Meal Plan: How to Stretch Your College Food Budget
College students studying - Extraco Banks
From Side Hustles to Savings: Ways to Make College More Affordable
From Side Hustles to Savings: Ways to Make College More Affordable
Using debit card
NEW! Savvy Savings
NEW! Savvy Savings