shelves with glasses and trinkets in dorm room

Comforters, sheets, pillows, rugs, mini-fridges, microwaves, electronics, hair dryers, laptops…back-to-school college dorm shopping can put a considerable dent in your wallet. In addition to books, tuition, meal plans, and all the expenses that frame your college diploma pursuit, you need to cut costs where you can when looking for dorm room essentials.

While you’ll definitely have your non-negotiable list of must-have brands—favorite foods, makeup, contact lens solutions, and skin care products—there are other daily necessities to consider buying cheaply in bulk. We’ve created a breakdown of budget-minded college dorm essentials.

Dorm Essentials Lists

You’ll essentially have two separate lists to prepare over the summer. The first is a dorm room shopping list for the dollar store, saving money on college must-haves. The second is a college dorm shopping list for items to source at back-to-school sales, liquidation stores, thrift shops, and bargain outlets. Shopping smart is key when tracking down essentials for college dorm life.

Dollar Store Dorm Shopping List

Why not save money where you can with dollar store dorm essentials? Here is a list of items we found at local dollar stores that will keep $100 or more in your wallet!

cleaning supplies and storage containers in dorm

Cleaning Products: You will definitely want to scrub down your shelves, desk, dresser, bed frame, chair, and any other furniture with disinfecting wipes or spray as soon as you move into your dorm room. And, follow this pro tip from Cheapism: Buy a 22-ounce spray bottle of multipurpose cleaner for $1 and top it off as needed using $1 64-ounce refill bottles! Most colleges won’t let you burn candles or incense in your dorm room, but you can find solid air fresheners, scented gel beads, reed diffusers, room sprays, and plug-in oil diffusers at most dollar stores.

Laundry Supplies: Need a quick, low-cost grad gift for a freshman heading off to college? Fill a colorful plastic bin with a slew of laundry supplies plus several rolls of quarters. L.A.’s Totally Awesome laundry products are sold at many dollar stores and are sought after by cleaning enthusiasts and penny-pinchers due to their stain-lifting properties and fresh scents. The same $1 64-ounce bottle of L.A.’s Totally Awesome laundry detergent at Dollar Tree often sells online for $14 or more!

Bathroom Toiletries: Why pay $10-$20 on a shower caddy that you’ll probably toss out at the end of the semester? Not only can you buy a durable plastic shower caddy at the dollar store, but you can fill it up there too. Opt for large bottles of brand-name shampoos and conditioners that are less expensive than their trial-size counterparts at the grocery store!

Dentists recommend changing your toothbrush every three months. That’s why stocking up at the dollar store makes sense. You can often get a pack of two for $1.00. What’s nice is that most dollar stores carry an array of trusted toothpaste brands. Dollar Tree, for example, sells favorite brands like Crest, Colgate, Aim, Aquafresh, Pepsodent, and Close-Up.

Stock up on washcloths, hand towels, plastic shower curtains, and hand soaps. Be sure to buy extra shower caddies, flip-flops/shower shoes, and mesh bath sponges, so you can throw them out if they get moldy or develop soap scum. And you can also purchase pain relievers, cotton swabs, bandages, first aid kit items, and other health and personal care items.

Desk & School Supplies: Not many people think to hit the dollar store for desk or school supplies. Very often, they’ll still have plenty of items in stock long after the shelves at Target, Walmart, or Staples have been picked over or emptied. The dollar store is perfect for highlighters, pens, pencils, post-its, index cards, calendars, paperclips, and pencil holders. Don’t forget a dry-erase board and markers, so that friends and roommates can leave messages on your dorm door.

dollar store dorm essential checklist

Fun Accents: Believe it or not, you can find plenty of college dorm room essentials for decorating your space. In fact, you’ll often find colorful and interesting accents you can’t find elsewhere. These include vibrantly designed washi tapes, removable wallpaper squares, decorative signs, mirrors, and patterned contact paper for lining drawers.

Other Dollar Store Dorm Room Items: If you’re allowed to have a microwave in your dorm room, be sure to pick up soups, mac and cheese, ramen noodles, paper plates, microwave-safe bowls, and a can opener. Consider buying storage bins to help separate and organize your food, cleaning supplies, and shoes in your closet. Plus, you can also find inspirational desktop signs, patterned contact paper for lining drawers, decorative planters with artificial succulents, and other colorful accents to liven up your dorm decor.

According to the money-saving consumer experts at , you can save even more at the dollar store by using a mix of coupons and mobile apps! And, while dollar-store chains are great for cost-cutting deals, it’s best for you to go with trusted brands at big-box stores in certain cases. As a rule of thumb, it’s worth it to pay full price for brand-name batteries, USB chargers, decorative mini lights, extension cords, and any electric devices to ensure their longevity and your safety.

shadowbox and frank ocean poster in dorm room

More College Shopping Hacks

Whether you’re a high school graduate wondering what to bring to college or a transfer student who needs to reset their dorm furnishings, browse the dollar stores first. That way, you can quickly stock up and save on smaller items that typically cost $3-$5 more at big-box stores. Next, browse thrift stores, bargain outlets, and discount chains with closeout merchandise. Then, wait for back-to-school savings events to purchase bigger-ticket items, like laptops and other electronics. We’ve compiled a helpful breakdown of dorm stuff that you can purchase at liquidation stores and back-to-school sales.

Dorm Decor: Of course, decorating your dorm is a priority. After all, you’ll want make your dorm more cozy and inviting. Bare walls give you the opportunity to express your personality, so you’ll want to shop for posters, wall art, and decorative wall decor. Browse thrift stores for one-of-a-kind artwork, vintage posters, tapestries, and decorative signs.

Invest in a keepsake shadow box that’s on sale and will allow you to bring favorite photos and mementos from home. Best of all, you can update your shadow box each semester of school or each season with favorite college memories. Also consider discounted photo frames in your school colors and class year.

Bedding: Twin XL bedding and accessories are freshman dorm essentials, as most on-campus housing furnishes college students with XL mattresses. Be sure to download the Target Circle app to sign up for college student discounts during July and August. Once you’ve verified your status as an enrolled college student you can enjoy 20% off on Target dorm essentials. In addition to bedding, invest in mattress toppers to ensure a good night’s sleep. Don’t forget pillows, extra blankets, and pillow cases.

Under-bed storage: It’s essential to make the most of the small space you’ll be sharing with one or more roommates. Before move-in day, research how much under-bed storage you’ll have, whether you’ll be using bed risers or lofting your bed. Rules differ from campus to campus, so it’s important to investigate your options. Look for durable bins, three-drawer plastic dresser, rolling tray towers, and cube storage organizers.

Appliances: Typically, toasters, hot plates, crock pots, space heaters, and air fryers are not allowed in dorms. Many residence halls will provide access to mini-fridges and microwaves or allow you to rent them for the year, so be sure to check before buying. Most dorms will allow single-cup pod coffee makers, as opposed to drip machines that have a hot plate. Be sure to invest in a fan, desk lamp, charging cords, and a college-approved surge protector.

Most states hold an annual back-to-school tax-free weekend in late July or August, so be sure to check your state’s government website for specific dates to save even more money. We hope these budget-minded tips will help you cut costs and save hundreds of dollars on your dorm essentials!

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