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10 Things NOT to Buy Your College-Bound Student

College is expensive, so parents should save money any way they can. Here are 10 items they can cut, without anyone noticing.
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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, either. Chances are your child will also have to buy books (which are increasing in price faster than tuition!), 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. Though ultimately a lot of these expenditures are up to the parental unit, we've put together a list of things 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. Outside of home-made fliers for frat parties, 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 most schools offer printing facilities that are either free or cheap to use.


Heston as Moses

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 new Windows Surface Pros — but are super expensive.

The days of tablet-based computing for students are coming, but they're just not here yet. Until then, tablets aren't necessary when you have 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 common than you think), you shouldn't invest in any particularly special bedding. Bobby and his friends are probably going to destroy the whole setup by eating and drinking recklessly on his bed with great frequency, so grab the bargain bin bedding deals instead of the 600-thread count sheets.

Your kid is going to have to buy all new bedding after he graduates, anyway, so why spend a lot on something that is, for all intents and purposes, disposable?


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 laptop 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, instead of a new one.


5. An Iron and Ironing Board

No college student has ever been seen using an ironing board. Ever. 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. Clothes

Speaking of clothes, can we be "real" for a minute? "The Freshman 15" is when kids, alone and unguided in their eating (and drinking) habits for the first time ever, tend to over-do it a bit at the dining halls. The result: packing on about 15 pounds in the first year.

We're not saying it'll happen to your kid, but just in case, why not save the majority of the "off to school" wardrobe budget for after their weight settles? Buy clothes too soon, and you'll be re-buying them a year later, once your young one discovers their meal plan entitles them to all-they-can-eat frozen yogurt.


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.

Moreover, since laptops have become lighter and more portable, they're being brought far and wide, but lugging a laptop all over campus means an increased likeliness of damage. Would you rather receive a phone call from your kid telling you that he spilled a can of Mr. Pibb onto a cheap-o laptop or a high-end model?


8. A Mini Fridge

No, not all kids are lazy. But which do you feel a college student is more apt to do: 1) Take an hour out of their busy schedule to walk to the local supermarket and choose healthy and nutritious items to snack on throughout the week, or 2) stumble out of bed at 1 pm, or whenever hunger makes them get up, and hit the dining halls? If you answered "1", then you have either raised a robot, or you've never met a teenager.

A student's only real need for in-room cold-storage will mostly apply to the occasional leftovers and carton of milk, and those can easily be kept in a communal fridge, anyway. Save a couple bucks and pass on the mini fridge rental option that many schools offer, and certainly avoid on buying one, since your kid likely won't have a use for a refrigerator that can only hold a single frozen pizza after college.


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 lost or broken, either.

If your response was, "What about for laptop backup and crash recovery purposes?!" then know this: College students will 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.

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 you? Tell us in the comments below!


Related DealNews Features:
Media Editor

Jeff Somogyi is the DealNews Media Editor. Since working here he's written deals, features, promotional and newsletter copy, blog posts, as well as scripts for our videos. Follow him on Google+, Twitter at @sommerjam or his blog.
Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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19 comments
nematoda
Have to disagree on the printer. Many professors ask for e-mailed papers, but many don't. It's probably a toss up. And, while it's certainly true that pretty much all universities have computer labs with printers, it can be a major hassle. The printers are often down, or really crowded during exam periods, etc. They also have a per-page charge. Having your own printer can be a lifesaver (or a grade-saver and time-saver, at least). To top it off, printers are dirt cheap. Yes, printing supplies can be expensive, but off-brand supplies are affordable.

Tablets, I agree, aren't necessary, but they can be very helpful in addition to a laptop. For example, a lot of books are available as e-books, which are much cheaper than printed versions. If you're studying, you want to be able to read and use your laptop at the same time. Tablets can also be used to read assigned articles.
dealnews-Lindsay
@fatediesel Also by "beer" I'm assuming you mean root beer, riiiiiight? :)
dealnews-Lindsay
@fatediesel I will grant you that there are reasons why a mini fridge could be convenient. But as someone who had to deal without one, you can get by pretty easily.
fatediesel
I don't think I ever saw a dorm room in college without at least one mini fridge and most had two. I never lived in a dorm with communal fridges and even if the mini fridge was just for beer/pop and the occasional leftovers it was still very convenient, and it's not like mini fridges are that expensive. Dining hall hours also might not work for all meals depending on your schedule so a student might keep some food in there.

Agree on the printer though. The computer I bought in college came with a printer and I used it occasionally the first year when I lived on campus but by the time I moved off campus I didn't even hook it up because it was so much easier just to email papers to myself or have them on a flash drive and print them on campus.
stanley0406
I feel we can be less touchy about the authors' opinions, or take it with a grain of salt. It's stupid to accuse them or dealnews getting paid by companies. I mean, proof? As for them having biases, I've yet to meet someone who has no biases.

Say #10 e.g., you could say that he's against Apple by suggesting not to buy iPhones before school starts, but as an Android guy, I could read that as he's still saying that people should buy iPhones, whether they buy them before/after the start of the school year, w/o mentioning Android or Windows phones. You can twist it however you want, I guess.

I personally think the review is very good and to the point, but I guess that's biased, too, as I'm now in grad school and have left college for 3+ years. The only thing I take w/ reservation is that I've a classmate who uses an iPad for class/notes w/ a keyboard and that seems to work great. So perhaps tablets are good enough? Also, maybe not laptops w/ i7s or 16GB+ ram, but SSDs can be considered..
Kyle55
@dealnews-Lindsay how much did Microsoft pay you guys to say this. Don't lie I see Microsoft paying big money for companies to recommend their stuff
LT839
1. It's way more convenient to have a printer in your dorm room...however I agree that one could live w/out.
2. As a recent mechanical engineering graduate, many of my classmates decided to buy IPads in order to have all of their notes in one place. Take 5 classes one semester, that would normally mean 5 books & 5 notebooks, I'd rather have one IPad with all of my books & notes on it.
3. Truth-no need!
4. This guy obviously never went to college, you need a dang TV! Buy a new one, they always have specials!
5. Greek system!?! You dress up at least 2-3 times/week, if not more. You need an iron! Spend more on wrinkle free wardrobe you say...oh yeah, that's cheap!
6. Truth-nobody cares what you wear in college.
7. You need a reliable laptop...not everyone needs a Mac, only apple fanatics & rich kids say you can't live without those.
8. You definitely need one, this guy is clueless...
9. Dropbox is key.
10. Fire this guy...
Tiranogh
Disagreements on the following:

tablet - Most students are using them all the time (even in grade school, an iPad in a case will work real well and it's cost is offset by the likelyhood that it will last 4+ years (like my ipad2 is approaching)

Laptop - Again, a good quality virus free mac laptop is more likely to survive 4 years of college vs the cheap replace them every year windows laptops - invest in a good case as always.

iphone - since the phones are as cheap and in some cases cheaper than droids this last recommendation should have been amended to ANY expensive phone. the reviewer's bias is showing.

buying a mini fridge isn't bad, just get it used or via freecycle.

things not to bring should include
a car (at least in the first 2 years),
a washing machine (often forbidden, but there are small versions that kids sneak in anyway)
a shoe shine kit,
fancy shoes of any kind
VERMINATOR
Hi DealNews
I gotta disagree about not buying a mini fridge. A lot of times if you put something in a communal mini fridge, someone else could very easily eat or drink whatever is there, even though it does not belong to them.
One thing that makes me very unhappy is to go to the fridge to get that treat, etc. & someone has already liberated the fridge & your snack. Spend the $100 & buy the fridge.
One year, I was working at Duke University at graduation. I cannot tell you how much stuff those kids gave away to employees. I mean nice stuff. I got a fridge & TV from students, and quite a bit of other things too.
What is it like to have that kind of upbringing that you can afford to give things away like that?
I do not have a clue, but I had a great time being on that assignment.
bwcbiz
The only one I'd kind of argue with is the TV - for 2 reasons. First, an HDTV is just a computer monitor that happens to have a TV tuner for flexibility. Whether they're hooking up the laptop or the Playstation, they are actually likely to use it. Also, college sports are big enough that a lot of student-fans would want to catch games, whether on broadcast or cable. Until ESPN starts selling a stand-alone streaming plan that isn't blocked by ISPs due to the competition against their cable-side offerings, there will be a need.
saintstryfe
The real answer? A Car. You won't have time to places, even small campuses have transportation (in my school, they had a lovely little van that ran a loop around the major spots in town). It decreases the chances of drunk driving, they'll have much less financial pressure to keep it operating, people won't beg them for rides, and it keeps you more on campus doing your work. No student I knew who had a car appreciated being the guy who got bugged to give them a ride to the supermarket.

Printers I agree with: when I was in grad school, the professors required us to upload files for work though the school's report system, specifically to reduce paper usage. Same with bedding. You'll replace it when you're on your own.

Some things are dependent: Some people really like a TV, some never used them. I liked mine personally. Fridge is the same way. The type of laptop or tablet is based on the program, the school and how the student will use it.

What to get? A bunch of flash drives.
StevenThai
Totally agreed. College-bound students nowadays are demanding everything for enjoyment that they forgot college is for studying. They think "parents want me in college so I should be paid for that". I believe they need to learn the money lesson prior to heading to college. Stop wasting your parents hard-earned money!

-- from a late 1980s student
jaoakland1
Luckily 2 of my 3 kids are done with college, but I would recommend a printer/scanner. It is much easier to edit printed pages and at times you really need a scanner. Have USB thumb drives for data storage - very cheap and don't take much up much room. Tablets are much easier to read from and you can rent digital versions of text books thru them - would save the cost of the tablet vs buying the books (really). I ended up getting Macs for all my kids. My oldest stated out with a Thinkpad ( the recommended laptop). The apples worked best. I agree about the phone, iron and mini fridge ( although we bought a mini fridge for the oldest and it is in our garage today).
Susan Bewley
I disagree with a lot of these -

1. Printer - yes, its the digital age but most teachers still want a printed copy of your work. Using a university printer is .10 - .20 a page at many public universities

2. Tablet - lots of textbooks are going digital. I would rather carry a tablet around than a laptop!

3. Mini Fridge - I consider this a must. We STILL use a mini fridge in our office!

4. Clothes - Maybe this depends on your major but I was expected to dress business casual when I went for observation teaching.

5. Ironing Board & Iron - see 4.

6. External Hard Drive - Cloud services go down. Bloggers can tell you this more than anyone! USB drives are cheap - just carry it!

7. High End Laptop - yes, they are using for word processing but a lot of majors require software with min requirements. Would you rather be buying a laptop once or every other year. Even more important if your student is a gamer!
dealnews-Lindsay
@JustSomeone As far as the Surface Pro, the latest line is widely regarded to be the first tablet to truly act as a complete laptop replacement. We mention it for this reason, as many tech outlets have heralded it for this purpose. It's considered to be one of the most capable in that category, but as noted, it's really very expensive.
dealnews-Lindsay
@JustSomeone A scanner is so infrequently required for most people, I still wouldn't recommend it unless you KNOW that you'll have regular use for it. Otherwise, the library computers are sufficient.
JustSomeone
I would suggest to the author a different way at looking at things, being an engineer who has helped out many cousins, nephews, nieces, and now my daughter:
1. Printer or scanner): There are many cases where a Scanner is A MUST. Camera's in phone don't quite work.
2. Tablet: Reading books is easier than with a laptop and the iPad battery lasts for almost ever while a laptop lasts about 8 hours. Tablets are much lighter.
And please, why do you have to pitch a Surface Pro tablet?
7. High-end laptop: What a student NEEDs for school is a laptop which is Sturdy, light, reliable, and virus free.
Given all the support calls, and the required yearly purchase of a new laptop if it is a Windows based laptop, I have strongly advocated Macbook pro/air with a 3 year AppleCare with an educational discount.
9. Cloud storage vs. ext Drive: Suggestions are good for data. Not for System. I waste most of my time helping with system restores.
Greg the Gruesome
It's been a long, long time since I headed off to college but I think I know the top answer to the question "Students, what items are you not having any luck convincing your parents to buy you?": A car (any car / a newer car / a new car).
rampo
"Fetch me my diet pills, would you, Hon?"
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