For both parents and students, off-to-school shopping can be an important financial lesson that should be shared. It is a prime opportunity for parents to get to teach their kids a few remaining lessons about budgeting and personal finance: two very important lessons college kids should be learning before leaving the nest.
Here are fifteen tips that will help both parents and students stay on track and avoid a credit disaster when shopping for the basics and the luxuries before heading to the dorm:
1. Take Inventory
Before even hitting the malls, take stock of what is already at home. Sure it is great to get a fresh start and have shiny new things, but the reality is education is expensive. Look in the basement and the attic for old furniture and household goods that are still in good shape.
As a parent, anything you can part with can end up saving you a lot of money.
2. Ask Family and Friends
Not only should you check out the recesses of your own house, ask grandma how many extra things she has stored away. Family and friends may have many items you could use and would only be too happy to clean out some of the stuff out of the storage.
3. Ask Other College Students
Perhaps a friend of the family or someone in your neighborhood has returned from college and could sell you a mini-fridge or a microwave. A recent college grad can also provide useful tips for the first year and what you should bring.
4. Check Out the College Rules
Some colleges do not permit certain items like hot plates or microwaves in the dorm rooms. Make sure you know the regulations and the space available to each student before buying anything.
5. Make a List
Take time to plan your shopping trip. By making a list, you may be less likely to wander down every aisle and make too many impulse buys. Having a master list will also help you keep track of what you’ve already purchased since you may have to store items at another location until move-in day.
6. Stay on Top of Sales
Start looking in the newspaper for the advertisement fliers. Find out what is on sale and when and plan to hit the stores on sale day. Check off purchased items from the master list so you do not double buy.
7. Shop Early
Start following fliers well before the start of a new school semester. You will not only be able to hit great sales, you can also ease a lot of the financial burden by spacing out the timeline you have to get all of the goods.
8. Compare Prices
Take time to look around different stores and bring a notebook. Jot down how much big-ticket items cost at different stores. You can also comparison shop online at sites like www.bizrate.com and www.nextag.com.
9. Save Cash
Leaving for college isn’t generally a surprise event. Setting aside a bit of money from every paycheck for a few months prior to the going away date can help control spending and keep you on budgets.
Students who have jobs should also be encouraged to contribute to the cost of the items.
10. Consider Credit Wisely
In the event you need to rely on a credit card for a necessary purchase, make every effort to pay off the balance as soon as possible. Messing up your credit can limit future financial aid or other loans that will help cover the costs of education. Do not use a credit card carelessly just to make purchases.
11. Limit New Purchases
Consider buying the basics for the first trip to school. There are many factors to consider, especially if you have not personally visited the dorm or apartment first. Space in the transportation vehicle is the first consideration. If the school is within reasonable driving distance, consider packing basics on the first trip and supplement supplies on subsequent visits.
12. Long Distance Purchasing
If the school of choice is halfway across the country, consider leaving early and staying in a hotel. There will most likely be local places where you can buy the necessities without having to lug everything on an airplane or rent special transportation to haul things.
13. Wait to Buy Decor
Unless you are absolutely sure of certain situations, avoid buying curtains, carpets and other decorative items. With the changing minds of college students and the opinion of potential roommates, it is better to get settled and shop later for the incidentals.
14. Don’t Take All New Clothes
It is not a good idea to purchase and bring an entire new wardrobe to school. Buy a few new items and take a few comfy, familiar items to school. Dress code amongst students may change a new students mind about fashion. Take seasonally appropriate clothes and remember storage in the dorm may be very limited.
15. Safety First
Remember to take security measures into account when purchasing items, especially for students sharing a living space. You may want to invest in an appropriate safe to store valuables or cash. It will be worth the initial cost of the device if it ends up saving the replacement cost of any important or irreplaceable items.