When I headed to UT Austin in 1996 for college, I had no idea what to expect and was a little worried about leaving home. So, it became really important for my dorm room to be transformed into that home away from home. In fact, I was obsessed! It took many trips to Bed, Bath and Beyond, Walmart, the Dollar Store and Target to find just the right items to create that cozy atmosphere that, in my mind, was essential to my success.
I will admit it now, I spent way too much of my parents' money on a few things, when I could have had a lot more useful items if I planned ahead and got some advice. Here's my advice to dorm room decoraters everywhere--these tips are great ways to decorate your room while saving cents. By the way, for you Longhorn alums, my first dorm was Blanton (briefly) then I moved to Littlefield (see the picture to the right of me and my cousin Chad helping me get settled in).
- Big, comfy pillows are the bomb! Not only will your head say thank you, your friends' behinds will too. Pillows are great extra seating. Just make sure that your sitting pillows are durable and easy to clean. Throw pillows are also very nice. Think of your bed as a sofa. Mix solid colors with patterns. Buy your solid colors cheaply and splurge just a tad on patterns. Reversible pillows are also pretty smart.
- The Dollar Store is your friend not foe! When it comes to saving cents this is the smart choice. Never been to one? Shame on you; my Dad swears by the Dollar Store. Although, I would not suggest buying your clothes from there, as he does. You can find everything from frames to school supplies. They key is to watch your spending; I'll admit, you can get carried away.
- Get tubs. Buy some tubs to slide under your bed. You can store all kinds are things in there, especially snacks. You can seal the snack tight to keep critters and friends out of your stash. In fact, I still use this tip now. I store all of my six-year-old's school projects in them and hide them away under the bed.
- Pictures. Pictures are important, but let me warn you--don't bring too many because you will be making new memories, and you need space for them. Also, thinking about the past won't allow you to enjoy the future. For the pictures you plan to bring, find some funky frames. When shopping, start out at Ross and then hit up Marshall's. Go straight to the clearance section, and look for the red tags. The beauty of buying clearance is that you are savings cents and you are creating an eclectic mix of styles. Matchy matchy looks like you are trying too hard; beside, you have plenty of time for that later and nobody cares.
- Flooring matters. Now and days, most colleges have the nice and new dorm rooms with bathrooms per room and carpeting. . .In my day, our rooms came with linoleum floors from 1974. I hate linoleum floors. In fact, I couldn't stand for my feet to touch the ground. I coordinated with my roommate and purchased a large carpet square bought from Garden Ridge. Another alternative is to go to any hardware store with your measurements and possibly get a rug remnant (extra left over from a job). There is no need to get fancy or elaborate! You just want something you can throw away later and not feel guilty. Carpeting makes a room comforting and cozy.
- Get some lamps! Who likes fluorescent lighting? They are ugly and do nothing for the mood nor your complexion. Lamps are a great way to light a space, and they add great character to a room. I have found some great buys at Walmart, but for flair and personality visit Target. Start off with a standing lamp and a table lamp.
- Organize your closet and learn how to fold. I wish I had done that. My closet was a MESS! I needed spacesavers and closet organizers to store all the new clothes I bought and the t-shirts I collected. Most dorm room closets are not big at all, and your drawer space is limited. Good folding comes in handy. I absolutely love the FlipFold from the Container Store. It's a bit like cheating.
- Love your sheets and comforter. If you are going to splurge, do it here. Sleep is sooooo important--you will see. Your bed should envelope you. Think soft, plush and stylish. If you like Vera Bradley bedding -- go ahead and get it, and save cents elsewhere. When someone walks into your room, your bed will be the first thing they see. It sets the tone.
The theme to all of this is to purchase what says "home" to you and think practical, but always keep saving cents a priority. You can do everything you want without incurring huge costs. Remember, your dorm room is temporary, most likely not very big and will constantly evolve over time. You definitely want to avoid having so much stuff that you have to rent a Uhaul to bring it home in the summer. That's wasteful. I can say that because I did it. :-( Can you say embarrassing?
Finally, your credit union is here to help you in any way. If saving money is a challenge, there are several experts at any Unity One location that are at your disposal. As a member-owned financial institution, you pay our salaries. Let us work for you.