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How to decorate your dorm room for under $150

You needn't spend a mint -- though it's certainly possible to do so -- making the room inviting and comfortable. Here's where to spend for maximum impact.

By Cheapism.com Jul 30, 2013 11:36AM
This post comes from Elizabeth Sheer at partner site Cheapism.com.

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After paying for books, not to mention school itself, there isn't much left over for dorm room decor. But consider this a lesson in practicality. Once May rolls around, whatever is in the room must be cleared out, which is a giant incentive to decorate on the cheap.

Student in dorm room (© Digital Vision Ltd./SuperStock)Many retailers -- Target, Wal-Mart, and Ikea, among them -- are now running specials on dorm room gear. Some deals are worthwhile, some aren't. To help you budget wisely we asked several students to specify what they know to be the essentials; we then found promising sources.

Bedding. No doubt you'll be spending lots of time in and on your bed, so make it attractive. Some students say it's important to coordinate with roommates, others are more individualistic. Target holds the edge in this category with a wild array of comforter sets starting at $18. Look for matching sheets and pillowcase at Wal-Mart, where you'll find 200-count solid-color sets for less than $15. Kmart offers a dorm package -- comforter, sheets, pillowcases, and towels -- with a feminine aesthetic for $40, but the one review for this item notes that the included hamper/storage bin is flimsy.

Many dorm rooms are stocked with extra-long beds, and our sources caution that twin sheets and blankets from Ikea don't fit. Bed Bath & Beyond has a clearance bin that often contains good quality sheets and comforters at greatly reduced prices, sometimes in the extra-long size. 

Storage. Most dorm room closets and dressers are minuscule, so organizing your wearables is essential. Scarves, for example, can become part of dorm room decor when hung on the wall or draped over the window. If you prefer to store them in a closet, a hanger that holds five scarves ($10 for two at Bed Bath & Beyond) saves lots of space.

Plastic storage cubes that look like dairy crates and tinted plastic stacking drawers, both available at The Container Store ($7 and $14, respectively), are attractive and practical; one recent grad moved the drawers from dorm room to college apartment to post-college crib.

Under-bed storage probably sounds like a good idea, but our sources suggest reserving that space for suitcases and duffels. It won't go to waste, though, because you can stow out-of-season items in the luggage. 

Walls. You'd think that reminders on your smartphone would ensure everything gets done on time. Not so, students say. A tangible planner, like the semester-at-a-glance dry erase board from PlanetSafe Calendars  (priced at $16.50) is a visual memory aid that can hang on the wall.

Peel-and-stick wall decals are tempting elements of dorm room decor, but don't go there, students advise. You're sure to accumulate lots of artwork made by friends in addition to your own creative efforts, and cheap posters and postcards are readily available.

AllPosters.com sometimes offers posters for as little as $2 apiece. You can also upload photos to the site and have them converted into posters; an 18x24 poster-sized picture costs $21.

Most dorms forbid nails or screws in the walls, which makes removable hooks an absolute necessity; Home Depot and many other vendors sell six-packs for less than $10.  
Furniture and accessories.
 There isn't room for much furniture beyond the supplied basics, but a few of our student sources swear by the Lack table from Ikea. It's small enough to be portable, provides an excellent surface for studying while sitting on the floor, and costs about $10. Rugs always liven up the dorm room decor but can be pricey. Instead, try a big bath rug; Target has several, in a variety of colors, starting at $15.

You'll definitely need a desk lamp for late night study sessions and Ikea is the best source for this. A colorful LED lamp from Sunnan that converts sunlight into electricity costs just $20. (Tip: Regular bulbs may not fit so buy an extra along with the lamp.) 

Appliances. Many small appliances, like coffee pots and toaster ovens, are prohibited while mini-fridges and microwaves usually pass inspection. Some colleges rent fridge/microwave combos, which isn't a bad deal if you don't want to cart a bulky appliance back and forth over summer break.
If you opt for one of these big ticket items, spread the cost among the roommates. Dorm-size fridges cost less than $100 and are large enough to accommodate leftover Chinese takeout and beverage cans. Wal-Mart sells a model that sports an ice cube chamber and chalk-board coating, which provides space for your very own dorm room decor doodles. Small microwaves are also budget-friendly and at Wal-Mart you'll find several models with price tags under $50.

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3Comments
Aug 1, 2013 10:22AM
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Buying dorm-specific stuff is usually a waste of money. The same things are sold in other parts of target, kmart, or ikea for less. You're paying for the market display. And unlike school supplies, that stuff is going to be the same cost all year. You'd save more money by actually living in the space for a week or two and seeing what would make life easier. Then make a shopping list.
Aug 1, 2013 11:55AM
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I had to share a tiny old dorm room my 1st year. I asked a few seniors what they did and got some great ideas. The best one was to turn the desk into a media center. put the chair from the desk on top anf face the chair away from you. Put the mini fridge (I had to have one for meds and juice in my room) where the chair would go. Use the space under the chair for food storage in plastic bins. Put a small tv on the chair facing the bed. I converted and old book into a shelf for my remote and alarm clock by craft taping the entire back side of it to the wall and using a cut plastic hanger to prop open the cover of the book to make the shelf, glued and taped in place of course. I draped the chair back around the tv w/ a cheap pretty sheer curtain I found on clearance and tied it on with ribbon. My stereo sat on the back of my desk and I put my cd's in one of the drawers below. My word processor (I am SO old) had just enough space on the desk to sit flat when I wasn't using it. I usually worked on my bed anyway, so a large art board became my anywhere desk, usually on the bed and it stored nicely slid in against the wall behind the desk. I bought a cute basket and hung it above my closet in the corner for laundry, at a slight angle. When it was full, I climbed on the bed walked on the desk, (after moving WP) and unhooked it to do laundry. I hung detergent and stuff in a bag mesh inside the closet. Shoes, scarves and jewelery in zipper pouches hung inside the closet on the wall, and the dresser was actually put inside the closet too. I hung long things next to it. The biggest reason I had so much extra space for my things was that I rolled my clothes. My bathroom caddy sat on the shelf in the closet and I sat up a kind of vanity on the dresser top for putting on makeup and doing my hair.  I used a kids outfit hanger to put my hair dryer on. I tied a loop on it near the cord to hang it from the hook top and wrapped the cord around the lower part when I wasn't using it. I had two drawers that always had room b/c my clothes were stored so compactly. Books and stuff were usually just piled somewhere or inside one of the larger desk drawers, or my bag. We made our own calendar out of poster board each month on the back of the door and filled in our schedules as we could, so we would know where the other was if needed. (Nobody had cell phones then.)
We had so much extra space that my roomie decided to get a turtle and keep it in a big aquarium on an old table we had scrounged. Those were crazy days.

Aug 1, 2013 10:49AM
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A college grad took their plastic storage containers with them when they moved. Brilliant, I mean who would have thought to do that? This "article" is just a poor excuse for pushing products.
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