With the amount of cash you need for a college education, finding a cheap college dorm is a goal for a lot of students – and their parents. Some aspects of attending college have changed a lot, but there are still those constants – dormitory decisions and needs for the purchase of everything you or your student needs for the semester.
Where You Go to School Matters
Of course, the location of the university has a lot to do with the cost of living. For instance, even if you find a cheap college dorm at Fordham in NYC, everything else you have to pay for will have a big city price tag.
Before you even apply for colleges, consider looking in less expensive cities and towns – not because you can find a cheap college dorm necessarily, but you can save on other items on your college dorm checklist. When you’re moving into a college dorm you may be buying meals through the school, but students still buy their own food at times, they buy gas (if they have a vehicle) and they also need to pay for amusement.
The Kiplinger Newsletter researched the cheapest cities and towns to live in, so if you’re headed to any of these areas, you can save on your college dorm checklist and throughout the year on goods.
Everything’s big in Texas – except the cost of living, apparently. You have lots of options for saving money when you live in Texas, a state that has seven of the cheapest cities on Kiplinger’s list.
Specifically, Harlingen, Texas is the least expensive U.S. city in terms of its cost of living. If you’re looking for a technical education, there is the University of Cosmetology Arts & Sciences and Texas State Technical College. The cost of living is 24.2% below the national average, so you can buy gas and everything else cheaper if you choose to move there.
But if you’re looking for a big, university experience, Western Michigan University is in Kalamazoo, which is #3 on the list of cheapest cities. Or if you prefer a small, liberal arts nonprofit school, there’s Kalamazoo College.
How about heading south for the winter? The University of Memphis is in the fourth least expensive city. Of course, moving into a college dorm varies in cost from institution to institution, and finding a cheap college dorm is one thing, while tuition costs are another.
Just because a city has a low cost of living, that may not carry over to the expenses associated with your dorm room.
Best in the West Tuition Breaks
If you like the idea of moving into a college dorm in a less expensive city, you have to look at factors like out-of-state tuition fees.
There’s a great opportunity for students who live in any of the western United States. You can avoid out-of-state tuition using the Western Undergraduate Exchange system, known as WUE. The idea came out of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) in an effort to reduce the extreme expense for young men and women to choose a college outside of their home state.
Students from the following 16 WICHE member states can interchangeably attend any of these schools at a lower tuition cost:
• New Mexico
• North Dakota
• South Dakota
• U.S. Pacific Territories and Freely Associated States
It still costs more to attend one of the WUE schools outside of your state than the universities that are closer to home. But instead of being 300% more expensive, tuitions are kept to no more than 150% of in-state tuition at participating schools.
The requirement is that the students who are eligible for WUE tuition breaks are those who are residents of a WICHE member state.
Tips to Save on Move-In
When you’re in the process of rubbing your wounds after writing your first tuition check, the word “ouch” may come to mind when moving into a college dorm room. A lot of college students head to the nearest Target store, as well as pharmacies, bed and bath shops and home goods stores to mark off all the items on their college dorm checklist.
Aside from being at the mercy of the expensive location of your school of choice (University of California, Santa Barbara is a case-in-point), there are strategies you can use to make that college dorm cheap – well, cheaper at least.
If your school is driving distance away, you can pack your car to the gills if you want. But if you’re flying, pack as lightly as possible and then buy what you need once you arrive. Whether you’ve chosen mail or a delivery service to send your belongings, or if you have to pay for extra luggage on a flight, you may be better off buying those items at the point when you’re moving into a college dorm room, not before.
If you want to save on furniture and appliances such as lamps or microwave ovens, ask the residence advisor or fellow students where discount stores are located.
Another very good reason to wait before filling boxes and bags with all your décor and supplies is that many – even cheap college dorms – have furnishings. In all likelihood, they will either mail you a college dorm checklist or post one on the school’s website.
Once you find out how your room is already furnished, which could include huge items such as a mattress, desk, couches, a washer and dryer, etc., you can determine what you need to buy or borrow for the school year.
If your dorm comes with a kitchenette, stock it with some reusable dishware to keep the disposables to a minimum. You may or may not want to purchase the meal plan available. For some students it’s more food than they can consume, but universities typically offer options for fewer meals than three per day.
One method for food purchase is to issue cards that you swipe when you go to meals. If you have dietary restrictions or allergies, it’s a good idea to invest in a mini-fridge and microwave for your room. Having a cheap college dorm is one thing, but your health and safety is a higher priority.
Lack inspiration? Use Pinterest for room design ideas. You can follow a particular color scheme or look for posts or YouTube videos with the words “moving into a college dorm room for less” in the title or description. You can even watch YouTube videos to learn how to decorate, plus you can learn how to make your own affordable DIY furniture.
If money is tight, you can’t afford to break or lose your belongings, so keep that in mind too. Teenagers and other young college students are spreading their wings for the first time, so the possibility for loss or theft aren’t necessarily on their radar. It’s always a good idea to remind yourself – or your student – that there are opportunists who may look for ways to make a few extra dollars by stealing valuables.
While the cost of tuition and expenses related to moving into a college dorm room are on your mind, one of the greatest expenses in life is your vehicle. Sometimes we forget that there’s a lot more than the initial sticker price – we think we just get a car loan and get on with it.
But you also have to factor in insurance, fees, repairs and gas. Once you do the math, you may be interested in finding cheap cars to take to college.
When you move into a college dorm room you also need to consider parking. You no longer have your own driveway and a three-car garage like you may have had at home.
A lot of students who have been driving Mom’s Prius or Dad’s pickup for the last four years need to buy a used car for college. It’s a great way to keep your college expenses down – if you’re hitting the books for a few years you’re less likely to really put to use the new Tesla on the market.
There are plenty of cheap cars to take to college, so you can hold off on your dream wheels until graduation.
While it may look like a problem to be solved, needing a vehicle is also an opportunity. If you’re looking for a car to take to campus, you can make an inexpensive purchase and serve the needs of others at the same time.
When you buy one of the Cars2Charities donation vehicles you support nationwide nonprofit organizations. When individuals donate a car to charity through us, we handle the sale of their car and issue them a receipt for their tax write-off, while a lucky charity receives a check for their cause.
The donors choose any 501(c)(3) they want to, and in 30 years of business, we’ve seen a lot of smiles on the faces of needy organizations.
You can support the effort to put money into the pockets of great causes, which range in focus from pets and scholarship foundations to children with cancer and single mothers. Your purchase can become a part of that process.
See a description of our auction on the Cars2Charities website. You’re always welcome to come to the weekly auction and details are available on our site.
While attending university can seem like a swirl of excitement mixed with trepidation and weeks of multi-tasking, it’s great when you can enjoy the process. It will take some pressure off if you trim your costs a bit through such methods as buying a used car for college, because there’s money left for other pursuits.
And if you need a car and can support those less fortunate with your purchase, it can act as a stress reducer of sorts. Feeling you got some sweet deals and came out a little ahead of the game with a cheap college dorm – whether you choose a less expensive campus or buy discount items – is frosting on the cake.