Decorate Your Dorm Room on a Budget

IF YOU'RE LOOKING TO spend money on dorm room decorations, you don't have to look far.

While retailers may be aggressively hawking their beanbag chairs and twinkle lights, smart college students will ignore them because overspending on dormitory furniture is a mistake. Think about it: As a college student, you have limited income, potentially high tuition expenses and may only spend about nine months in your dorm room. If you're funding your furnishings with student loan disbursements, the costs are even higher. For example, a $200 bookcase, bought with unsubsidized student loans at a 4.45 percent interest rate, will accrue about $40 in interest by the time you graduate four years later, according to a student loan repayment calculator from And that's just one item.

So, don't fall for marketing messages when it comes to personalizing your dorm. There are tons of low-cost ways to make your college residence hall feel like home. Here's how to decorate your dorm room without busting your budget.

Plan it out. "Know how much you can spend on your dorm room, what your essentials are and shop around for the best deals," says Hal Lublin, director for Referral Marketing at Swagbucks, an online shopping rewards site, via email. "If you don't have a budget going in, you're much more likely to overspend."

Make sure you know the dimensions of your room, so that you don't bring anything that won't fit into your assigned space. Understand what furniture will be provided – for example, a desk, bed, chair and closet – and what you'll need to bring on your own, including decorations, storage containers, bedding and extra seating.

During back-to-school shopping, don't forget to forgo forbidden items, such as candles, air conditioners, cooking appliances and other prohibited products. Spending your dollars on these unwelcome items, only to have them confiscated later, is a total waste of money.

Talk to your roommate. Avoid redundant purchases by coordinating with your future roommate or roommates. You might be surprised at what you can share: A first-aid kit, a hair dryer or an over-the-door organizer. Not only will this conversation prevent you from showing up with two identical mini-fridges, it'll give you a chance to get to know your future bunkmate, Selander says.

Another word on roommates: There's sometimes pressure to impress a new roomie by overspending on swanky furniture. Don't fall into that trap, experts say. After all, you'll be living in this room for less than one year, and you can find cheap decorations that will make your room feel homey without the financial hangover.

Bring something from home with you. You don't need to buy all new items, just because you're moving into a new room.

Pack up your favorite blanket, pillows, photos, wall art and other decorations from your childhood home. Not only is repurposing these items cheaper than buying new, it's also comforting. "Transitioning to college can be tough, but bringing some familiar items and posters from your room at home to your dorm room saves money and makes your new surroundings feel more familiar," Lublin says.

Search for inspiration. There is a gold mine of budget dorm room decor inspiration online on home-design websites and social media, including Instagram and Pinterest, experts say. You can even look beyond dorm room decor and check out tiny house design ideas for decoration and storage inspiration, Karr says.

Check out thrift stores. Not every item of dorm room furniture needs to be brand-spanking new, experts say. Log on to Craigslist and eBay to find secondhand furnishings and decorations. Check out local secondhand stores and thrift shops to find used furnishings, fabrics and decorations.

Get crafty. There are tons of low-cost ways to personalize and decorate your dorm room. "There are so many creative and fun things to do with cardboard and fabric and things like that," Selander says. For example, you can use those supplies to fashion a faux headboard or a piece of wall art. Wooden crates can become bookshelves. Discount fabric or secondhand scarves can also be used to create chic curtains or add privacy as room dividers.

Consider using paint swatches – you can grab them for free at a home goods store – and make a creative mural, Karr says. Or print a simple design using your printer and frame it in an unused picture frame, she says.


By Susannah Snider,

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