Furnishing an empty space when you’re starting from scratch can get expensive pretty quickly. When you add this to other typical college expenses, the numbers can be truly alarming. An annual survey by the National Retail Federation revealed that college students spend an average of $836 on dorm furnishing costs, electronics, and clothing.

But when you use things like secondhand apps and hand-me-downs, you can outfit your college student’s dorm room without spending an arm and a leg. And saving on college costs wherever you can will help keep your total costs down so managing student loan debt is easier later on. Just about everything can be done on a budget if you’re willing to put in a little extra work. Follow these tips to make their dorm room feel like home without busting your budget.

Five Ways to Outfit a Dorm Room on a Budget 

Confirm what’s allowed

Before you start shopping for your college student’s dorm or close-to-campus apartment, it’s important to check with the school to see what their restrictions are. Some will allow things like microwaves, hot plates, and coffee makers, while others won’t. Similarly, there may be restrictions on the ways that things can be hung on the walls or attached to doors. Asking the school for a list of what’s allowed and what isn’t will save you money on the things that they won’t be able to bring and it’ll also save you money by avoiding damage fees when the semester is over.

Ask about rental options

Some schools will let students rent certain dorm appliances like vacuums, irons, and ironing boards. Since your student won’t need these items all that often, renting from the school will be much cheaper than buying new ones for them to take with. The college might also have appliances like microwaves and miniature refrigerators, but since these are popular and in-demand items, you’ll have to move fast. Call as soon as the acceptance letter comes to confirm restrictions and ask about rentals.

Reach out to roomies

Though many colleges across the country are limiting one student per dorm room as ongoing concerns of coronavirus linger, other colleges are still assigning the traditional two per room. For students that will have a room to themselves, they will need to be much more on top of what they really need since there is no one to split the cost with. But with a roommate, it is likely that both students will need a lot of the same things. For students who will have a roommate, it makes sense to team up and tackle those shopping lists. This will also help both sets of students and parents save money by avoiding having two microwaves, multiple area rugs, or dual coffee makers. If they’re already friends with their roommates, it’ll be easy to work through the lists together. If they don’t know them yet, it’ll be a great reason to reach out and start a conversation before they move in.

Talk to relatives

Family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors can all be excellent resources when it comes to quality time, emotional support, and hand-me-downs. Don’t be afraid to ask them about any items they have just collecting dust in their storage space or garage. It’ll save you money and they’ll be happy to be involved. It may be an extra dish set, a backup microwave, or a carpet square for underneath the coffee table; whatever it is, it’s one less thing you have to buy. And if you know any recent college graduates, they can give you advice on what’s essential and what they never ended up using even though they thought they’d need it.

Search for deals on essentials

Speaking of essentials, whatever’s left on your list can be bought at a discount or picked up for free on a page like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Just one quick search on any given day may reveal free bed frames, dressers, TVs, or toasters. Freecycle and OfferUp are two other handy resources for free or cheap purchases. Just be sure to obtain them cautiously, follow the rules of the site, and clean and sanitize any second-hand purchases you make. 

Dorm rooms get dirty quickly, so it’s important to bring things in clean and keep them that way. You can find the basics in this category at a discount or dollar store. You’ll need antibacterial cleaning wipes, hand sanitizers, bathroom cleaners, and antibacterial room sprays. Many of them are made with the same ingredients and are significantly cheaper. Check the labels to confirm that they meet the EPA’s disinfecting standards and keep a copy of the CDC’s cleaning and disinfecting guidelines on hand.