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10 Things NOT to Buy Your College-Bound Student

These items can be easily trimmed from your kid's college shopping list, to save some money.
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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. 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.


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 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.


Old Timey Vacuum
burrows.com

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?


iPhone Bottle Opener
designboom.com

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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Marketing Communications Manager

Jeff Somogyi is the DealNews Marketing Communications Manager. 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.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Unless marked as a "Sponsored Deal," the opinions expressed here are those of the author and have not been reviewed or endorsed by the companies mentioned. 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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10 comments
arizonawildcat
(I also created an account just to post!)

The only thing I absolutely disagree with is the printer. As a former undergraduate student, a current graduate student, and a current college instructor, students ABSOLUTELY have to print assignments to turn in all the time. Many instructors don't care if they print their readings or not, but students will almost certainly have to print out multiple assignments to turn in for every single class they take. Now most college campuses do have an abundance of printers on campus, but this often translates into students having to make a special trip to a computer lab or printer, and printing has gotten expensive lately--and that's per page. Once you're printing one 20-page final paper for each of your six classes, you're going to quickly wish you had your own printer.
dealnews-bglaser (DealNews)
@Masheli Billy

Could you be more specific about which items you think are "crucial" and why?
Masheli Billy
I created an account just to post.
This post couldn't be any more inaccurate than sending an engineer to do custodial work would be. Now every student and school differs, however some of these I would absolutely say would be crucial for a new student to remain on top of things and for retention numbers to remain high.
Why didn't I see a gift card to your liquor store on this list?? That's something that coulda been #1.
sheriff97
The first thing on this list is quite incorrect. I was required to print five separate syllabi (each nearly 20 pages). In addition to this, I have a few classes that require me to bring in printed essays, assignments and at least 20 pages of online reading each class. Buying a printer is in your students best interest.
Vistance
Or if you want to really be intelligent with spending your money, buy an Android phone and not an overpriced iPhone. They're available cheaper, do literally exactly the same things, and can do even more. Amazingly, there IS another brand of phones out there besides the holy Apple...
jcauthorn
Excellent suggestions all!
Jeff Somogyi (DealNews)
@jaspers
I agree that the Surface 3 is a very capable laptop replacement - I, myself, use one and love it.
However, as you say, it's a BIT more expensive than a midrange laptop and, thus, maybe not QUITE "there" as a cheap-o tool for students that'll save mom and dad some money", especially when compared to a $500 laptop!
jaspers
Surface3 is not much more expensive than an midrange laptop. It can be easily be used to take notes in OneNote in class. For artist and designers Freshpaint is a great pressure sensitive drawing app that comes included with the tablet.

I don't take paper notes in meetings any more, I take my Surface3. When I get back to my desk from a meeting I just drop it in a dock. All my regular Windows applications work great on two 24" monitors attached to my dock.

With Windows 10 and note taking enabled in the Edge browser there is even more benefit to using this at school.
Lindsay Sakraida (DealNews)
@India-dealnews That's fair, some people are dedicated ironers. Me, I can barely manage to do it now, and I'm a working adult! I actually don't know where my iron is...
India-dealnews
I do have to say, in regards to the iron and ironing board, that my roommate and I used them regularly our freshman year in the dorms. I worked off campus and had to have a neatly pressed uniform so I used it a few times a week, but my roommate, yeah she even ironed her t-shirts. I seem to recall the she iron her pajamas a time or two...