Back to School Shopping

Nancy Anderson
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For me, this month is a first. I have my first experience with sending a child to college. As we have scrambled all these months filling out paperwork, applying for grants, loans, etc. the reality is, he leaves for school in a few short days. The one thing we have yet to do is the shopping to send him with some dorm supplies. This time of year, schools are geared for the back-to-school shopping, with specials and enticing deals everywhere. However, the economy is causing many people to be much more frugal with what they buy, as we ourselves will do.

So often, parents have loaded up their kids with stuff that has ended up never being used, and ultimately given away either literally, or through garage sale pricing, or has been kept in storage, never to see the light of day. Reports show that due to the economy though, parents are looking to only purchase items that are definitely needed, and that won't get tossed to the side unused. Many more people are just making do with what has been previously purchased, and not getting sucked into the hype about new back-to-school needs.

With back-to-school shopping being the second biggest sales season for retailers, the stores are in full force with their marketing campaigns in an effort to sell you on what they think you need. Parents and students spend on average, over $800 to furnish their students with the apparel, food, dorm supplies and electronics.

When you examine many of the "must-have" lists that retailers are promoting, you will actually find many not so must-have items. Stores like Target even have promotions for color-matched sets of lamps, bedspreads, coffee makers, vacuum cleaners and music players. Of course the intent for the retailer is to get you to purchase as much as possible, so packaging them in sets like this is a selling point. But really, is everything really needed?

Dorm rooms tend to be small areas, and usually have multiple students. The amount of stuff that any one student can bring in is limited. Schools have reported that most students overdo it, and that on average about half of the student's belonging do not end up fitting in their rooms, and get sent right back home with the parents. This is obviously something most first-time college students have to learn the hard way.

The media plays things up so well that parents and students often forget the space limitations in most dorm rooms. Parents want to have their kids prepared for anything and everything, but dorm experts claim that such a mindset is always overkill. One of the key things that experts say to do is to check closely on what is already provided as far as funishing in the dorm, and see what other resources are offered to students.

Some students have taken a more minimalist approach. Bringing clothes and bathroom equipment, and then borrowing or buying other needs as you go is one option. Living in the dorms is community living, and sharing is very common, say most dorm experts. Does a dorm room with two to four students really need two to four coffee makers, irons, vacuums, etc?

Parents with a college student experience behind them are quick to tell others to resists the temptation to spend a lot of money on this stuff. It is much better to buy very little, and then let the student purchase what they need once they have arrived and are aware of a need, than to send them with too much, which gets wasted and tossed to the side.

As one parents suggests "All those slick ads out there — they woo you in. The best bet is to talk to a current college student. That's really where you get your best advice."

Do you have a child already in college? What tips can you offer to those of us who are sending our child for the first time?

Jeff McCormack resides in Virginia Beach, VA. where he works as a web designer by day. In his off time he is a husband, father, mail order book store manager, and musician. Aside from being a freelance writer for this Education Jobsite blog, he also seeks to assist in career choices and information by contributing to other Nexxt blog sites.

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