Score Some Dorm Deals and Save Big (Even if You’re Not a Student)

By Linsey Knerl on 15 August 2008 (Updated 16 November 2011) 3 comments
Photo: cpchannel

Starting out my first year of college was a dream. I had aspired to have the coolest dorm, complete with mini-fridge, neon carpeting, and a VCR. After paying tuition and book fees, however, there was little to spare. So I packed up my gear, shoved it into the tiny dorm closet, and used upside-down apple crates and a homemade loft bed as my furnishings. 13 years later, I’m amazed at the market for dorm gear; espresso machines, $400 ottomans, and plasma TV’s, which are advertised as “must-have’s” for the new student. What? Are you kidding?

While it may be inappropriate to spend thousands on dorm furnishing for the 17-year-old who wants it all, it’s not a bad thing for a financially savvy, independent adult to work the deals to their advantage. While not exactly “deals”, there are some big perks to shopping from the dorm sale flyers. Here’s a few to get you started:

Same quality, better pricing – I’m sure you’re no stranger to the method some manufacturers use to sell similar (if not identical) items under several different brand umbrellas. Often, the same product is changed slightly (usually in appearance only) before marketing it separately as both a premium and an off-brand purchase. Scour the Dorm Deals department, and see if you can’t find some small electronics, appliances, and basic linens that appear almost identical to bigger brands offered in the regular home and furnishings department. They will almost always be more affordable, and even if the quality ends up lacking down the road, you can take advantage of warranties or satisfaction guarantees to replace it for little to nothing.

One-stop shopping – There are days when I just need to get my shopping done. I don’t want to stop 150 places, and I don’t necessarily need to compare every minute detail for pennies between prices. The dorm furnishing sections of many stores and online retailers allow for a quick “checklist” approach to purchasing. Wastebasket? Check. Laundry bag? Check. I can skip over items I don’t truly need, and I may even be reminded to pick up a few things I have been putting off – for much less than if I drove all over town trying to find it. (Caveat: Don’t buy just to buy. If you’re not looking for it, don’t even think about putting it in your cart.)

Availability – Have you ever spent hours just trying to find that perfect corner shelf or just the right storage system? You know it exists, and you have even seen it before, but finding it is just impossible? Dorm deals often offer basic, affordable, and easy-to-adapt solutions for homes that are short on space (or just money.) Brand names like Sterilite, Tupperware, and Rubbermaid seem to appear en masse in the dorm section of the store, complete with funky colors and expandable accessories for a fully customizable experience. Where were these things just a month ago? Who knows, but they are here now, and if you’re looking for inspiration or an upgrade to your office, bathroom, or bedroom, now’s the time!

Sale potential – What happens when all those college students get settled in the for the year? (And they realize that they bought way too much stuff for their tiny cell?) They won’t be buying anymore dorm stuff! And in an attempt for retailers to clear their shelves for Christmas gear, they’ll begin marking it down to an even more appealing price point. If you’re not too picky about when you get your stuff, you can outlast the regular prices and stock up on staples for year-round. (Plus towels make nice gifts!)

It’s important to not lose your head over all the stuff being offered for Back-to-School. In fact, stores may also take some of their regularly overpriced inventory and try to pass it off as “Dorm specific.” Don’t be fooled into paying more than you should, buying more than you need, or getting anything horrible in taste (neon carpet).   For extra back-to-school savings strategies, check out my cheat sheets on JCPenney and Target!

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Amy

The post-back-to-school sales are amazing. I still use plates, cups, bowls, and silverware that were deep discounted after the season and given to me as gifts.

Your point about the brand umbrella is definitely true-- when I lived in the dorms I got a "Joe Boxer" microwave from Kmart. My father who works there explained that it had the same guts as (if I am remembering correctly) a westinghouse brand microwave, just with a more stylish design.

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Tyler

College students are notoious for wanting the "brand name" goods. Our consumerist society seems to try to squeeze the most money out of the shallowest of pockets!

Always compare prices and features of items. Often the brand name items can be of the same or even lower quality than the generic items offered at a cheaper price.

When the sales are on and the brand name items actually become cheaper than the generic items, it makes you wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place!

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Suz

My husband and I a) move frequently and b) have tons of books. We have folding book cases that we love, but which are very expensive evrerywhere except Bed Bath and Beyond durring 'back to school' time. Shopping dorm deals can, indeed, be a good thing.

-Suz