College Dorm Room Decor Ideas – How to Decorate Your Dorm on a Budget

August 12, 2008

If you’re facing the challenge of decorating your dorm room on a shoestring budget, then here are some ideas that might help.

Get things for free if you can
– If you need a coffee pot, a bookcase, or some plastic storage bins, ask your friends and family for them first. You may be surprised by what they will be willing to give you to help you along your way. If they do give you necessary items for free, remember to drop them a quick thank you note or email to show that you appreciated the gift.

Check out the local thrift stores
– You can get lamps, pictures, and sometimes gently used furniture very cheaply. You would be shocked at a lot of the fun retro items you will find there – especially the lamps!

The average cost is around $3 – $5 per item. Furniture usually runs $15 to $25 dollars. Remember that you are only going to use these things for a little while, and you will not be nearly as angry if your roommate comes in drunk and knocks over a $2 lamp, or throws up on a $15 chair.

Make it yourself – There is nothing cooler than quirky, hand-made items in a dorm room. If you are crafty, you can check out your local home depot for cinder blocks, particle board, cheap paint, a hammer, and some nails. The possibilities really are endless.

Drop in on the Dollar Store – Organizers, mirrors, school supplies, bath items, and even toothpaste are all cheap and readily available at your local dollar store. Definitely visit Dollar General, Big Lots, Everything’s a Dollar, etc. before you hit the bigger departments stores. Take a list with you, and cross off everything you can as cheaply as you can – your wallet will thank you!

Wait to buy larger items until you meet your roommate – Why pay full price for that mini-fridge all by yourself? What if they bring one too? Instead, get to know them a bit, talk about what you would both like to have in your room, wait for a sale, and split the cost.

Consider creative ways to decorate – Get together with your roommate and buy some colored chalk. You can do murals on the walls together (chalk washes off easily), and have “the room” that everyone talks about. Whatever you do, avoid laminating your posters. When I went to college, I thought laminating my posters would be cheaper than framing them. It was not! Total cost to laminate 6 posters: $80. Total cost for used frames at Goodwill: $12.

Check your local newspaper and Craigslist – You can usually find some excellent deals on just about everything in the classified sections of your newspaper, or online at You can pick up curtains, a desk, possibly even a computer this way.

The Last Step: Hit Walmart, Target and K-Mart
– Once you buy everything you can at a discount, then check out the superstores. They still have good deals on items. You can even do a little pre-shopping online to see what they have, and how much it costs. Spending 30 minutes surfing the web to compare deals will save you a lot of money, (and gas!) because you won’t have to run from store to store looking for a specific item.

As you head off to college, remember that many of these first items may get torn up, used up, or just not fit your style anymore after about a year. Even though you might be tempted to buy a $200 desk, or a $350 comforter set, it’s probably better to err on the side of caution. I honestly don’t think I still own even one item that I decorated my dorm room with in college. So, why not pay less for items that will probably turn out to be temporary in the long run?

College is all about figuring out where you are going in life. Give yourself the freedom to change your style any time you want to – without feeling guilty over the price of re-decorating.

Check back tomorrow for a review of the best banks for college students where we’ll cover accounts like ING Electric Orange checking and Washington Mutual checking.

These ideas on thrifty dorm room decor, furniture, and accessories are part of the College Student Money Guide.


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9 Responses to College Dorm Room Decor Ideas – How to Decorate Your Dorm on a Budget

  • Francesca

    Thank you for the tips! I’ll be going back to college soon and will definitely do some of the things you recommend! I had thought about Craigslist but that was it! Great pointers and great post!

  • rob

    Great cost cutting ideas. Thrift stores are perfect place to get inexpensive vintage pieces and determine your style! Vinly wall art is also inexpensive and perfect for those non- paintable dorm rooms.


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