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Dear Roadie, My Daughter Wants Me to Spend a Small Fortune Decorating Her Dorm Room. How Much Is Too Much?

Two girls in a pink and white dorm room sitting on a carpet, smiling at the camera.

Dear Roadie, My Daughter Wants Me to Spend a Small Fortune Decorating Her Dorm Room. How Much Is Too Much?

Published June 21, 2024

Two girls in a pink and white dorm room sitting on a carpet, smiling at the camera.

Dear Roadie,
My daughter tells me that all her friends are putting a lot of effort and money into decorating their dorm rooms, and by the looks of her Pinterest board, it sure looks like this has become the trend among college co-eds. But we are not wealthy people. It’s enough that we’re paying for college, or at least most of it. We simply can’t afford all the glitz and glam that some of her friends are planning for their dorms, and I don’t think it’s necessary. I don’t want her to feel inferior and I don’t want her to start college off feeling anything but comfortable, happy, and settled. Should I cave and let her have the dorm decor extravaganza she wants so badly?
— Drowning in Dorm Decor Dilemmas

Dear Drowning in Dorm Decor Dilemmas,

Your daughter is right, and if she goes to college in the South, chances are there will be plenty of girls whose dorms look like they belong on HGTV. But you are also right; over-the-top dorm decorating isn’t necessary. Of all the places where you can cut back and save a little bit, this is it, but that doesn’t mean her dorm needs to look shabby. She can still create a chic space where she’ll be comfortable resting, studying, and probably even entertaining. 

The first thing I would do is pat yourself on the back. You’ve made it this far and it sounds like you’re already covering most of the college’s costs, so you deserve a round of applause. Don’t spend a moment feeling guilty about that, even if she gives you the side eye when you say no to the bedazzled headboard she’s clamoring for. 

Before you buy so much as a bedsheet, have a heart-to-heart with your girl. Start by acknowledging her desire to fit in. We all want the feeling of belonging, especially when we first arrive at college. But busting your budget to achieve that is not the way to do it. Remind her what’s most important in life (hint: it isn’t dorm decor). She’ll make new friends because of who she is, not what her dorm looks like.

Tell her you appreciate her sense of style but spending a fortune on a dorm where she’s only going to live for nine months isn’t necessary. If it’s that important to her, what’s to stop her from getting a part-time job to help pay for some of it? Having some skin in the game will teach her a thousand more life lessons than having you hand over your credit card. Even just a few hours a week of work can add up to enough for the snazzy wall decor she has planned. 

You can also turn this into a fun, bonding project. There are ways to make her dorm look great without breaking the bank. 

First, consider the non-negotiables you “have” to buy, like bedding (most dorms have twin XL mattresses, so not the standard), and set a budget for those. Remind her that she isn’t guaranteed to use this bedding again after freshman year, given that most adults prefer standard-size mattresses. Unless she wants the sun in her eyes every morning, she’ll also need curtains, a bedside table if not provided, and storage options. You can find a great list of suggested dorm items here.

Next, have her create a wish list of items she’d love to have but doesn’t need to have. We’ll call this the nice-to-haves. Have fun searching for the best prices online and in brick-and-mortar home stores known for their great prices. Some parents create Amazon wish lists to keep track of everything they need in one place and compare prices across several brands. Others opt for shopping apps that compare prices, like Flipp and MyCartSavings.

Spend an afternoon together searching for great bargains at discount stores such as At Home, HomeSense, and Home Goods. Some price-conscious retailers, such as Target, Walmart, and Bed Bath and Beyond have entire collections devoted to dorm life, and you can usually snag sales and promo codes to shave savings further. You can also create a price drop list on apps such as Honey, and you’ll be notified when a coveted item goes on sale.

Regardless of where you shop, consider how you shop, too. Sometimes it’s easier to buy items little by little across the summer instead of having one big shopping spree. This way your wallet isn’t hit for everything all at once.

Asking her to work to earn the money for some of her wish list items and turning the process into a fun bonding moment can help get her ready for college without making you feel like you have to mortgage the house to do it. 

Have a perplexing college question? Email Dear Roadie for advice at dearroadie@road2college.com

_______

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Other Articles You Might Like:

College Dorm Checklist: Full List and Advice for Parents of Incoming Freshmen

Things to Bring to College: Clothes, Dorm Decor, Bedding, Electronics, and More

What NOT to Bring to a College Dorm

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