Dorm room 101

By: Elizabeth Scussel | C&G Newspapers | Published August 20, 2014

From bean bag chairs to lava lamps, furnishing and decorating a dorm can be difficult — and expensive. In fact, the average family will spend over $800 on a new college student’s needs, according to the National Retail Federation.

However, experts say there are tips and tricks to keeping some of those dollars in your pocket while making the most of your space.

Keith Gillogly, of, said the biggest misconception in regards to dorms is size, and he suggests asking the school beforehand.

“You need to expect how tiny that room actually is, and you need to purchase things that are conducive to such small living quarters. For example, if you’re buying an extra chair, make sure it can be folded up and stored,” he said. “Most people are not using the space as efficiently as they can.”

A bit of fun, personal flair in the room is also important, Gillogly said.

“Look for items that are not only multifunctional, but will also add to the look of your room. Simple things, like if you buy an over-the-door rack, choose one in a bright teal or a color you like,” Gillogly said.

Another piece of advice is when purchasing items, ask yourself how relevant it will be after dorm life. He explained that if it cannot be useful to you in your college apartment, you should probably skip it and save your money.

“Also, leave money in your budget for life when you’re moved into the dorm. Plan for the unexpected,” he said. “And ask the school what is provided — do they provide a trash can or a desk chair? It’s definitely worth asking. Make sure you need everything that you’re buying.”

The most important thing to consider in any dorm, Gillogly said, is the bed.

“When it comes down to it, students need to get a great night’s sleep in order to succeed in school,” he said. “The bed that most colleges provide is not comfortable. Buy a bed topper to make it sleepable.”

Experts suggest hunting for deals at flea markets and garage sales to help stretch your dollar further. Another trend creeping up is virtual garage sales, where users can browse items from the comfort of their own home.

Oakland Virtual Garage Sale was founded by local resident Kristy Swanson. The site allows people to buy, sell, and swap with other people in Oakland County and surrounding areas.

“When it comes to decorating your dorm room, Oakland Virtual Garage Sale is a great alternative to in-store shopping,” said Leah Vandercook, administrator for the OVGS group. “There are many expenses associated with college, and these expenses have been increasing each year. It is important to save money in any way possible. Members can find just about every item needed to decorate a dorm room — often at half of the retail cost. Many items are of better quality and still less expensive than traditional advertised dorm room necessities. If you can’t find what you are looking for, then you can post an ‘in search of’ comment, which allows the sellers to come to you.”

Aside from the convenience of at-home shopping, Vandercook said one benefit of using the site is that it’s local.

“Many of our members recruit their friends and family, and many of the members know each other — we grew up together or went to school together,” she said. “We serve Oakland County and the surrounding areas, and we feel it is safer than other, more well-known sites.”