The Dollar Store Dorm Room

by Gina Roberts-Grey

Got a kid going off to college? The hefty price tag of tuition, books, room and board, fees … oh my! … college is expensive. And in the midst of wondering how your family will foot the bill for all the big things like that room and board, it hits you that you have to outfit the space your child will call home for the next school year.

You’re not alone. This year, I join the ranks of parents stretching dollars to send their kid to college, which means I’m looking for bargains and deals on dorm room supplies.

I know shopping online can net some decent deals, but sometimes you want to touch and feel items to ensure you’re getting the right texture or color. And there are also some things like cleaning supplies (who wants to ship bleach?) that just seem to make more sense to purchase in person.

That’s where the dollar store comes in. A trip to the dollar store can net substantial savings on college supplies — as long as you know a few tricks of the shopping trade. And whether you’re sending your son off for his first or last year in college, here’s how to navigate the dollar store to make sure your budget earns an A+.

Know what the school provides

The cheapest purchase is always no purchase at all. Many dorms already have full-length mirrors in the bathrooms, dry erase boards on the doors and cleaning supplies on each floor for students to use. A quick inquiry to the school’s housing office can prevent purchasing unnecessary items.

Steer clear of all dollar deals

Dollar stores that always price every item at $1 are not the best solution for supplies purchased late-summer. You can typically go to other stores like Target, Wal-Mart, Staples, etc., that generally offer sales for multiples of the item for $1 or even less.

Bring a list
It’s easy to get carried away by bright colors and back-to-school advertising, even at the dollar store. A list will help you remember exactly what you need and keep you on track so you don’t give in to impulse purchases or buy more than what you need.

Look beyond traditional dollar stores

Check Target’s The One Spot and Five Below as well as standard dollar stores. They often feature items at just $1 as well, but they tend to be better quality.

Quality counts
Be sure the items you are buying are of high enough quality to last the school year. It doesn’t save money to spend that $1 over and over again as you replace broken items.

Armed with this knowledge, once you’re in the dollar store, be on the lookout for these dorm room essentials that you can probably snag at a great deal.

Cleaning supplies.

Everything from laundry detergent to glass cleaner to sponges and scrub brushes can be found at a bargain at the dollar store.

Bathroom supplies.

If your co-ed needs to bring her own, shower curtains and shower mats are a steal at dollar stores.

Clothes hangers.

Not keen on emptying your cache of coat hangers? Stock up at the dollar store instead of sparing some of yours.

Snacks and candy

You know, for all-nighters.


Everything from pain and fever reliever to cough drops and cold medicine to toothbrushes and a hairbrush can be found at the dollar store.

Organizing supplies.

A shower caddy will help your student keep all of those discounted toiletries tidy. Storage baskets that can be tucked under desks and beds are a smart way to store extra shoes, etc. Cheap vases from the dollar store are great for a fashionable form of storage, too. Use them for holding pens and highlighters neatly on a desk or makeup brushes on a dresser. Food storage containers aren’t just for leftover pizza. Your child can use them to store bobby pins, paper clips and other desk supplies.

Picture frames.

Your college student is going to want to decorate the plain dorm-room walls with photos of friends and family. Cheap picture frames from the dollar store remove your worry about them getting destroyed because they’re so inexpensive.

Wondering what other rooms you can outfit at the dollar store? Tweet me or drop me a line with your requests, and I’ll help you decorate great on a tight budget.

Photo credit: Getty ThinkStock

About the Author

Gina Roberts-Grey, owner of GRG Productions, Inc., is a writer specializing in celebrity profiles and Q&As, as well as health, personal finance and consumer issues articles. Her health and lifestyle articles have appeared in many print markets including AARP The Magazine, Essence, Family Circle, Glamour, Heart Healthy Living, Natural Health, Parents, Parenting, Pregnancy, Woman's Day and more.