10 Things Not to Buy for Your College-Bound Student

College is expensive, so parents should save money any way they can. Here are 10 items they can cut, without anyone noticing.

This post comes from Jeff Somogyi at partner site DealNews.

College is expensive. And it’s not just the tuition. Chances are your child will also have to buy books, which are increasing in price faster than tuition, new clothes and even some housewares to furnish a dorm room or apartment.

With all this spending going on, the line between need and want can 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 could easily avoid buying for back to school altogether, if you’re trying to save as much money as possible. (And while you’re at it, check out all of our back-to-school guides for further buying advice.)

1. A printer

Parents: Since your time at college, most schools have entered what is now being referred to as the digital age. That means that professors increasingly accept, or even prefer, papers and assignments delivered paperlessly via email. Outside of homemade fliers for frat parties, modern students may find they never have to print a single piece of paper, so why invest in a printer?

Sure, they might run into that one, ancient, crusty old professor who quips, “I’ve never had to reboot a pencil!” as he glares at all the laptops he’s seeing, but most schools offer printing facilities that are either free or cheap to use.

2. A tablet

Unless their major is pharmacology, your average kid can get through their entire college career without having to touch a tablet. Why? Because there are currently two types of tablets that you can buy for a student: super cheap ones that can’t replace a laptop in functionality, and ones that can handle more advanced tasks — like the new Windows Surface Pros — but are super expensive.

The days of tablet-based computing for students are coming, but they’re just not here yet. Until then, tablets aren’t necessary when you have a relatively well-equipped laptop.

3. Expensive bedding

Unless your teen’s college stocks its dorm rooms with extra long mattresses, 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 think that your kid will need a TV to watch NBC’s Must See TV on Thursday night, but the times they are a-changin’! Heck, we’re pretty sure that millennials don’t even watch TV on TVs 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 in common rooms or other meeting areas. If your kid says she needs a TV for playing video games, it’s OK to remind her that college is for studying. But if you’re just a big softie who can’t say no, consider giving her a hand-me-down set instead of a new one.

5. An iron and ironing board

No college student has ever been seen using an ironing board. 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. Clothes

Speaking of clothes, can we be real for a minute? “The Freshman 15” is when kids, alone and unguided in their eating (and drinking) habits for the first time, tend to overdo it a bit at the dining halls. The result: packing on about 15 pounds in the first year.

We’re not saying it’ll happen to your kid, but just in case, why not save the majority of the off-to-school wardrobe budget for after their weight settles? Buy clothes too soon, and you’ll be re-buying them a year later, once your young one discovers their meal plan entitles them to all-they-can-eat frozen yogurt.

7. A high-end laptop

Our unscientific estimate shows that 99 percent of all college students use their laptop for little more than word processing, Wikipedia-ing, and watching YouTube. These kids don’t need eight cores of processing power to put words onto the screen.

Moreover, since laptops have become lighter and more portable, they’re being carried 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?

8. A mini fridge

No, not all kids are lazy. But which do you feel a college student is more apt to do: 1) Take an hour out of their busy schedule to walk to the local supermarket and choose healthy and nutritious items to snack on throughout the week, or 2) stumble out of bed at 1 p.m., or whenever hunger makes them get up, and hit the dining halls? If you answered “1,” then you have either raised a robot, or you’ve never met a teenager.

A student’s only real need for in-room cold storage will mostly apply to the occasional leftovers and carton of milk, and those can easily be kept in a communal fridge anyway. Save a couple of bucks and pass on the mini fridge rental option that many schools offer, and certainly avoid on buying one, because your kid likely won’t have a use for a refrigerator that can only hold a single frozen pizza after college.

9. An external hard drive

Cloud storage is free and plentiful. Just by signing up for Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive alone, your student can have access to 30GB of free cloud storage. Add in Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive, Apple iCloud and a host of smaller services, and you’re pushing almost 100GB of storage for free. And it can’t be stolen or lost or broken, either.

If your response was, “What about for laptop backup and crash recovery purposes?!” then know this: College students will remember to back up their laptop as often as they remember to iron their clothes.

10. 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 devices fall in price. It’s well within your right, as a parent, to force your kid to use his (gasp!) old iPhone until that happens.

Giving a pass on all the items above will definitely help keep the back-to-school spending down, but it’s far from an exhaustive list. Parents, what back-to-school items have your kids been asking for that you plan to skip? Students, what items are you not having any luck convincing your parents to buy you? Tell us in the comments below.

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  • Dori Zinn

    I don’t know how many kids still work in college, but an iron and ironing board was super helpful when I needed to get ready for my job in between and after classes. No parent wants to send their child to work looking like a hot mess.

    • Kent

      Dry (even air only (no heat) works) clothes just long enough to shake out the wrinkles from the spin and then hang them up and they will look better than if they were ironed.

      • Dori Zinn

        Thanks for the reply, Kent. But my restaurant job required a clean, white pressed button-down every shift. In the area around the school I went to, restaurants were filled with this kind of dress code. It was normal for kids to use ironing boards/irons. Keep in mind this isn’t “old” times. I graduated from college in 2008.

    • Shannon

      I used an iron, but not ironing board. Just a desk top or the floor or something.

  • Synthetic1

    Our son is entering his senior year. Every year he takes less and less and less. … and now even less. First year we rented a minivan and it was not filled to the brim but kind of close. He went back early this year with two backpacks (one for his horn) and a small rolling duffle. The article is right on, except for Dori, below, who needs an ironing board.

  • Kent

    Or use the communal fridge mentioned in the article.

    • KC

      If dorm communal fridges are anything like many workplace refrigerators, sometimes even clearly-labeled items can disappear! (Thankfully not a problem at my current job.) That dorm room fridge may be a good investment.

  • ManoaHi

    I disagree about the tablet (#2) and to some degree the high end laptop (#7). Some colleges require the iPad. i.e. “days of tablet-based computing” are here now (unless you wrote this three years ago). It’s not just colleges, at my children’s school (K-12) with son in middle school and daughter in high school, every student (yes, the K kids get them too, but can’t take them home, starting from 3rd grade the kids can take theirs home).My kids have (i.e. no option) to do most of their homework on their iPad. They also have to submit homework and papers on-line. They can also track their scores on-line. Teachers leave assignments on school cite, so the students can keep up to date on assignments. Rival schools also distribute iPads.

    I recently went back to college, and I got my textbooks, on my iPad. With many features, like highlighting, and annotations, most reader software makes it seem like a real paper textbook. It’s easy to copy an paste into software that will create the bibliography entry for you and paste it back into your “paper”. Since you can’t sell these e-textbooks, I usually rented them. So a laptop and a tablet was all I needed to carry with me. We did everything on-line via a Web portal, the syllabuses were there, assignments were turned in there, communicating with classmates were all in there (where no-one had to disclose their email, the portal took care of it all).

    Pharmacology is not the only subject where a tablet is either warranted or outright required.

    With regard to the laptops, I guess it depends upon what you are doing. You’re only looking at the negative of risk of damage. I see absolute loads of MacBooks (the vast majority) being carried all around my college campus. I kept mine in my backpack. Get the lightest best you can afford. Me and my kids do programming (Java, C++ and C#) and they started having to do PowerPoint presentations since the 3rd grade when they were in a public school) a cheapo laptop just doesn’t cut it (my daughter tried, but got frustrated – I had to get her a better laptop, wasted my money on the cheapo started my son on a proper laptop). Keep in mind my kids are in middle school and high school and their campus is quite large. Two years and they’ve never damaged their laptops, nor their iPads. I’d expect college students to be more responsible. If you are paranoid about damage, get insurance. But for a freshman, I’d agree, to an extent, again, depending upon what their doing, since it will be outdated (I won’t go as far to say obsolete-but a distinct possibility) in two years.

    I’m not sure where you got your 99% estimate regarding usage. Wikipedia (my college didn’t accept Wikipedia as source for research or citation, and my daughter’s teachers don’t accept Wikipedia either – my son will face that same restriction this upcoming semester), email and YouTube, take a visit to a college’s student lounge or cafeteria; I guarantee you, you’ll see more than words and YouTube. You need to rethink this point. The only advice I’d give is make sure it is not too heavy (yes you’ll will end up paying more for lighter weight).

  • Shannon

    We did not have a communal fridge in my dorm either; mini fridge was a lifesaver. The cafeteria closed after dinner, and often used the community stove top to make meals with friends. Definitely used the fridge a lot. It made a great microwave stand too :)

  • ManoaHi

    I totally disagree with not getting a tablet. Last year I went and took a semester off work and enrolled in college full-time. I got all my textbooks in electronic form. Majority were rentals and the rentals are cheaper than if I bought the book and sold them later. Assignments and syllabuses were on-line and all submission for work is done on-line. But note taking on a tablet was the biggest thing, and after taking the notes on the tablet, I could review on my phone and computer. It is a perfect companion and I didn’t have to shuffle (ruffle) through papers. The textbook reading was a real surprise and I could bookmark, highlight and annotate in my tablet’s reader app. And since I am not marking up a paper book, I don’t have to worry about lowering resale value. Although submissions, where I usually created on my computer, the tablet made everything smoother. I believe that those who think of a tablet as a toy have not really understood it’s role.

    With regard to “The days of tablet-based computing for students are coming, but they’re just not here yet.” is totally false. The days are already here and have started several years ago. I’m not sure where you are looking, but my children’s school is sort a late adopter in that every student (K-12) got their iPads last school year. The rival schools started earlier, some are now starting on their fourth year (counting this year). These are not pilot programs this is entire school implementations. My kids sort of think this is “old hat,” (it seems to them that it has always been there) at least their homework is due via the iPad, projects and reports go via Google Drive and generally require a computer but can be done on their tablets. So, if tablets are good for K-12, it should be on the college student’s “must have” list. I truly can’t see “not here yet”; it most definitely is.

  • ManoaHi

    I just reread the article. May I ask when this was written? I see July 29, 2014 but is that the real date this was written? When I saw in point #1 about printers (which I do agree that it is not needed) “papers and assignments delivered paperlessly via email”, that may have been true 5 or so years ago, but even in 2009, we could turn assignments via portal. If and only if the portal was down, the profs might accept e-mail, but if they saw enough that couldn’t get the assignment into the portal, he/she would move the due date. i.e. they don’t want assignments slamming their inbox. I saw the prof’s side of the portal and it was crystal clear which class, which section, which student. They give a grade, return you paper via the portal and you can track your grade. This is super tedious to do via email.

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