We'll let you in on a little secret that "they" don't want you to know: College is expensive!
But seriously, it's not just tuition. Your child will have to buy books, new clothes,
kegs of beer, and even some housewares to furnish a dorm room or apartment. With all this spending going on, the line between "need" and "want" can get a little blurred.
Ultimately these expenditures may be up to the budget and soft-heartedness of the parental unit, but we've put together a list of items that you might think a college student needs, but that you could easily avoid buying for back to school all together, if you're trying to save as much money as possible. (And while you're at it, check out all our back-to-school guides for further buying advice.)
1. A Printer
Parents: Since your time at college, most schools have entered what is now being referred to as "the digital age." That means that professors increasingly accept, or even prefer, papers and assignments delivered paperlessly via email or upload. Modern students may find that they never have to print a single piece of paper, so why invest in a printer?
Sure, they might run into that one, ancient, crusty old professor who quips "I've never had to reboot a pencil!" as he glares at all the laptops he's seeing, but, because of that dinosaur-with-tenure, most schools offer printing facilities that are either free or cheap to use.
2. A Tablet
Unless their major is Pharmacology, your average kid can get through their entire college career without having to touch a tablet. Why? Because there are currently two types of tablets that you can buy for a student: super cheap ones that can't replace a laptop in functionality, and ones that can handle more advanced tasks — like the Windows Surface Pro 3 — but are super expensive.
To be clear, we're not anti-tablet — if your kid already owns one, they can bring it to college, but it won't really give them a leg up, academically. Adoption of eBooks for classroom textbooks is slow and most schools — unless they're specifically making a point to be "all digital" — are still putting paper books on the syllabus, so your kid'll be fine without one. The days of tablet-based computing for students are coming, but they're just not here yet. Until then, your best bet is a relatively well-equipped laptop.
3. Expensive Bedding
Even if your teen's college isn't one that stocks its dorm rooms with extra long mattresses (which are more annoyingly common than you think), you shouldn't invest in any particularly special bedding. Junior and his friends are probably going to destroy the whole setup by eating and drinking recklessly on his bed with great frequency, so grab something from the bargain bin bedding deals instead of the 1,000-thread count sheets.
4. An HDTV
As old people, you might think that your kid will need a TV to watch NBC's Must See TV on Thursday night, but the times, they are a-changin'! Heck, we're pretty sure that millennials don't even watch TV on TVs anymore. These Internet-agers tend to consume their shows and movies via Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and the like, so a computer is all they'll need.
If they do want to watch something on broadcast TV like us old folks, most colleges have TVs located in common rooms or other meeting areas. If your kid says she needs a TV for playing video games, it's OK to remind her that college is for studying. But if you're just a big softie who can't say no, consider giving her a hand-me-down set, or at least wait until November to buy one.
5. An Iron and Ironing Board
You have a better chance of spotting Bigfoot using an ironing board than you do of catching a college student with one. If you don't want your kid to look like a rumpled mess, it may be smarter to buy a wardrobe of wrinkle-free clothes.
6. A Vacuum (Or Any Cleaning Supplies, Really)
Much like the poor ironing board, a vacuum will be another one of those items that will be unpacked from the car, placed in the dorm room closet, and then left there until it's unpacked again and brought home for the summer. But it's nothing against the Hoover! It's just that, for many kids, college will be the first time they are not forced to clean, so they won't.
Of course, there might be one or two situations that require an "emergency" vacuum. In those instances most colleges offer loaner vacuums at the front desk of the dorm or in the student center for either free or a small rental fee. But, if you still feel like your kid is going to need some kind of always-available suction, consider getting them a dust buster or small hand-held vac — something just large enough to suck up the Doritos crumbs from their desk or sheets.
7. A High-End Laptop
Our unscientific estimate shows that 99% of all college students use their laptop for little more than word processing, Wikipedia-ing, and watching YouTube. These kids don't need eight cores of processing power to put words onto the screen. In fact, most kids can get by with models that cost less than $500.
Moreover, since laptops have become lighter and more portable, they're really easy to carry all over campus, but that means an increased likeliness of damage. Would you rather they have a cheap-o or high-end model when you receive that inevitable phone call from your kid saying he spilled his
beer soda all over it at the bar soda shoppe last night?
8. Anything a Phone Can Do (Alarm Clock / Point-and-Shoot Camera / Fart Machine)
Maybe back in your day you needed an alarm clock to wake up, but you also needed a tube TV to watch TV (and drove a foot-powered car, probably). But these young kids can do so much on a smartphone, and that translates into savings for you, as you trim more and more items off the college shopping list. A camera to catch those fun, college hijinx that you hope, as a parent, you never have to see hard evidence of? Smartphone cameras are better. A radio or CD player, for those long-night study sessions (dance jam parties on the quad)? Hundreds of albums fit on a phone. Fitbit, to make sure your kid doesn't fall victim to the "Freshman 15"? Fitness tracker apps are built in!
9. An External Hard Drive
Cloud storage is free and plentiful. Just by signing up for Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive alone, your student can have access to 30GB of free cloud storage! Add in Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive, Apple iCloud, and a host of smaller services, and you're pushing almost 100GB of storage for free. And it can't be stolen or broken, either.
If your response was, "What about for laptop backup and crash recovery purposes?!" then consider this: College students are likely to remember to backup their laptop as often as they remember to iron their clothes.
10. An Apple iPhone
Though not typically considered a back-to-school item, if your kid just happens to need a new iPhone right before school starts, we suggest you hold off. Not only do new iPhone models tend to be released shortly after school is in session, but our deal archives also show that whenever Apple announces a new product, current generation Apple devices fall in price. It's well within your right, as a parent, to force your kid to use his (gasp!) old iPhone until that happens.
Bonus 11th Item: An Apple Watch (Duh)
This probably doesn't need to be said out loud, but, just in case: Your kid definitely won't need a starting-at-$349 wrist band that is mostly useless without an accompanying iPhone. As we said with tablets, if they have one (like if you got them one as a graduation gift, because you're the best parent on the planet), great, but an Apple Watch won't help at all academically.
Giving a pass on all the items above will definitely help keep the back-to-school spending down, but it's far from an exhaustive list. Parents, what back-to-school items have your kids been asking for that you plan to skip? Students, what items are you not having any luck convincing your parents to buy? Tell us in the comments below!
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