Dorm Decor Shopping? Here’s Exactly What to Spend Your Money On (& Where to Save!)

Because even IKEA adds up.

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College dorm and apartment decor: Where to spend and where to save money when dorm room shopping

As college students, we move around a lot. Unless you happen to stay in the same apartment or dorm for four years straight (what a blessing this would be!), you’re probably going to be experimenting with decorating and furnishing different spaces.

Furnishing a new home entirely from scratch is expensive and often wasteful, so we recommend doing your dorm room shopping in a smart manner. (See our college packing list for a full list of what you should bring to college.)

So how do you know which pieces to splurge on and keep throughout the years, and which to save on and rotate out as you please? Below, we’ll show you where to splurge and where to save on college apartment and dorm room furniture and decor:

Related reading: College Apartment Decor: 26 Stylish & Functional Pieces You Need

Sleeping and Lounging: Splurge

nice couch vs ratty couch

As a general rule, any piece you’re going to spend a lot of time sitting/laying down on should stand the test of time.

For example, the sofa in my most recent apartment was definitely a “save” — when I moved in, my roommates had already acquired it for free… from an old frat house. Needless to say, I never felt fully comfortable sitting on it, and at the end of its life it began to literally open up at the seams.

My bed, on the other hand, was a splurge, and I’m so happy: It is super cozy and it doesn’t squeak or make any noise if I toss and turn during the night. I even got one of those memory foam mattress pads and highly recommend you do, too.

Spend good money on your bed and dorm room bedding in particular, because quality sleep really does impact how you function during the day.

If you plan to spend time in your living room or have guests over frequently, a nice sofa/chairs are critical to creating an inviting atmosphere. (Obviously, if your house is going to be the “party house,” shop accordingly — you don’t want anything super expensive and irreplaceable getting ruined.)

Storage: Save

expensive bookcase vs cheap bookcase

You definitely don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to store your stuff.

I bought my bookcase off of Craigslist for $15 and it’s one of my favorite pieces of furniture. You can always repaint things that you don’t like, so this is an easy area to save.

Any in-closet storage (shoe racks, hanging organizers) should be sturdy, but don’t spend a lot of money on these either. The basic Target and IKEA versions will do the trick.

Statement Items: Splurge

You might not be an art connoisseur, but it’s nice to have a couple of really great statement pieces.

Of course, it’s nice to snag a few $15 posters from Etsy to liven up a room. But think about investing a little more in a one-of-a-kind painting from a local artist, a two-foot tall sculpture, or an antique mirror being sold at a vintage market. These pieces will last you for years and years to come and will make your space look more grown-up.

It’s nice to spend a little more on items that will bring you joy every day, won’t be touched enough to get broken, and that you can’t see yourself getting rid of or replicating easily. You’ll thank yourself later!

Dishes and Cutlery: Save

fine china vs. plastic cultery

I love buying mismatched mugs and bowls from Anthropologie when they’re on sale, but you don’t need to buy that perfect dining set that you would register for at your wedding in ten years.

I personally think it’s okay to accept that sometimes college students need paper plates and shot glasses. Should you have a set of plates and silverware that you regularly use and wash? Absolutely. But fine china has a place, and it’s not in a college apartment — you don’t want to worry about your roommates breaking a $50 plate.

Take it from me—you’re going to end up with so many free plastic cups and logo mugs that you’ll have to dedicate an entire cupboard to them. Don’t waste money on them.

Where do you spend and save on dorm decor?

Do you buy expensive dorm room furniture or do you get everything at IKEA? What are your favorite pieces of dorm decor? Let me know in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Dorm Decor Shopping? Here’s Exactly What to Spend Your Money On (& Where to Save!)”

  1. How much money is reasonable altogether for dorm supplies? I will be paying at least half the cost, but I don’t want to approach my dad with a ridiculous number. I’m a college freshman, and what I’m looking at now, everything included (via following the schools recommended packing and adding some decoration here and there), including a $240 rental for the only approved fridge/microwave unit, is around $900. I feel like that’s steep, but I just don’t know. Thoughts?


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