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What NOT to buy your college freshman

When we were your age, we didn't have cell phones or laptops. And while we understand you need those things today, here are eight items we know you don't need.

By Smart Spending Editor Jul 15, 2013 6:30PM
This post is by Jeff Somogyi at partner site Dealnews.com.

MSN Partner siteCollege is expensive. Beyond tuition, chances are your child will also have to buy books, new clothes, kegs of beer, and even some housewares to furnish a dorm room or apartment. With all this spending going on, the line between need and want might get a little blurred. Though ultimately a lot of these expenditures are up to the parental unit, we've put together a list of things that you might think a college student needs, but that you really should avoid buying for back to school all together.

Image: Guitar (© Corbis)1. A printer
Most schools offer printing facilities that are either free or cheap to use. If this notion sounds like an inconvenience to your teen, remember this: Ink is expensive, not to mention annoying to replace. Sure, your kid could be popular being the only one with a printer, but once the ink runs out, these so-called friends will seek free printing elsewhere. And though it might be a valuable lesson for a young adult to learn, you're the one who is going to get a call to replace the black and color ink every other week -- and that adds up.

2. A tablet
In a college setting, even a budget laptop can better handle school-based tasks than an iPad. Writing and editing a term paper on a touchscreen is so difficult, it could easily be a torture worthy of inclusion in Dante's Inferno. (As a punishment for plagiarists, possibly?) Function-for-function, laptops are cheaper, too. For the same $500 spent on a 16GB Apple iPad with Retina Display (bundled with a $50 Target Gift Card; with $6.99 shipping and handling, a low by $44), you could get a really speedy, lightweight Windows laptop like the ASUS VivoBook Intel Ivy Bridge Core i3 1.8GHz 11.6" Touchscreen Laptop which comes bundled with a 4-year subscription to Microsoft Office 365 University for a puny $359 (with free shipping, a low by $139). All in all, if the back-to-school computing decision boils down to a laptop and a tablet, opt for the laptop ... and definitely don't waste your money on also buying a new tablet.


3. Expensive bedding

Even if your teen's college isn't one that stocks its dorm rooms with extra long mattresses (which are more common than you think), you shouldn't invest in any particularly special bedding; Bobby and his friends are probably going to destroy the whole setup by eating and drinking recklessly on his bed with great frequency, so grab the bargain bin bedding deals instead of the 600-thread count sheets. Your kid is going to have to buy all new bedding after he graduates, anyway, so why spend a lot on something that is, for all intents and purposes, disposable?

4. An HDTV
As old people, you might be thinking that your kid will need a TV, but times they are a-changin'. Heck, we're not sure that millennials even watch TV sets anymore. These Internet-agers tend to consume their shows and movies via Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and the like, so a laptop is all they'll need. If they do want to watch something on broadcast TV like us old folks, most colleges have TVs located in common rooms or other meeting areas.

If your kid says he needs a new HDTV for playing video games, it's cool to remind him that college is for studying, not playing games ... and then consider giving him a hand-me-down set. No need to invest in a new HDTV, because even with their low prices, there's a pretty big chance that the TV will get damaged (moving it back and forth every year, wild parties, general poor judgement). It'll be easy to part with your old TV, especially if you plan on buying yourself a nice new one.

5. An iron and ironing board
The ironing board is a thing that no college student has ever been seen using. Ever. If you don't want your kid to look like a rumpled mess, it may be smarter to buy a wardrobe of wrinkle-free clothes.

6. A high-end laptop
Our unscientific estimate shows that 99% of all college students use their laptop for nothing more than word processing, Wikipedia-ing, and watching TV. These kids don't need eight cores of Haswell processing to put words onto the screen, despite the attractive price points of the latest Haswell laptops. Moreover, since laptops have become lighter and more portable, they're being brought far and wide. But lugging a laptop all over campus means an increased likeliness of damage. Would you rather receive a phone call from your kid telling you that he spilled a can of Mr. Pibb onto a cheap-o laptop or a high-end model?

7. An external hard drive
With the advent of accessible and cheap cloud storage, there's little to no reason for the average student to own a portable hard drive. Documents for school can be uploaded to Google Drive or Dropbox, and Facebook likely already serves as an accessible photo album anyway, so why bother with an external solution? If you said, "Why, for backup and crash recovery purposes, of course!" then know this: College students will remember to backup their laptop as often as they iron their clothes.

8. An Apple iPhone

Though not typically considered a back-to-school item, if your kid just happens to need a new iPhone right before school starts, we suggest you hold off. Not only do new iPhone models tend to be released shortly after school is in session, but our deal archives also show that whenever Apple announces a new product, current generation Apple products fall in price. Your kid can just hold tight with his (gasp!) old iPhone until this happens.

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Avoiding these items will definitely help keep the back-to-school spending down, as well as avoid the, "Then why did we buy that for you in the first place?!" conversations. No one likes having those. But surely there are some additional "lived-and-learned" don't-buys for college.

Parents, what back-to-school items have your kids been asking for that you just won't buy them? Students, what back-to-school items are you not having any luck convincing your parents to buy you? Tell us in the comments below.

More from Dealnews.com:
2Comments
Jul 17, 2013 12:53PM
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Printer - Wrong -- Most printers now are 3 in one (very useful). They are cheap and they are there. They are not a 10 minute walk across a freezing cold campus in the middle of the night.
Jul 18, 2013 1:20PM
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Excellent article. A college student can survive - and THRIVE - without Apple products. Remind your kid of the real priorities.
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