Real College Students Share What To Splurge & What To Go Cheap On

Back in the day, college newbies relied on good old word of mouth (or guessing) when figuring out what the hell to bring with them for their very first year. And now, even with the power of Google to solve just about any packing dilemma, vetted advice from veteran students is still tough to top. Our shopping solution? Combine the two.

We polled real college students to create a virtual shopping list filled with the first-hand products they found worthy of splurging or saving on. Some are still enrolled, some are recent grads, and all are experienced packers when it comes to campus lifestyle essentials. Ahead, find this good old word-of-mouth guide filled with the dorm goods, tech gadgets, and fashion accessories worth investing in (or not) for during your next four years and counting.


At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. All product details reflect the price and availability at the time of publication. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.

Commercial Cool Mini Fridge (Splurge)

Grace, 21

Unless your college living situation comes with a shared kitchen, investing in a compact fridge for your room is key — and as far as mini fridges go, this dual freezer model from Commercial Cool is about as roomy as they come.
Commercial Cool Compact Single-Door Mini Refrigerator & Freezer, $189.99 $169.44 Buy

Honey Can Do Collapsible Hamper (Save)

Mady, 21

Laundry baskets don't all skew towards cheap-plastic or pricey-woven numbers — and this under $20, collapsible-weave product with minimalist-chic rope handles proves it.
Honey-Can-Do Square Resin Weave Hamper With Rope Handles, $16.35 $15.41 Buy

Alo High-Waist Legging (Splurge)

Allison, 26

For some, college years are the, "I lived in leggings," years — so invest in a quality pair or two that won't pill, rip, or slip. This high-waisted pair from Alo is engineered to contour to your shape with its four-way stretch and moisture-wicking fabric that can take you from yoga classes to library study sessions and beyond. Having a few better pairs of basic black leggings means you won't constantly being throwing away and buying new ones.
Alo Yoga High-Waist Moto Legging, $114.00 Buy

Room Essentials Pillow Set (Save)

Wolfgang, 22

It's recommended to recycle pillows every one to two years, so buying a pair that doesn't tote a steep price tag for college may be your best budget bet — and with this bundled under-$10 set from Target, you won't need to sacrifice quality for affordability.
Room Essentials Standard/Queen 2pk Bed Pillow Set, $8.00 Buy

Everlane Rain Jacket (Splurge)

Allison, 26

Invest in a durable jacket that you can transition from rainy gloom to windy sunshine with stylish ease.
Everlane The City Anorak, $88.00 $62.00 Buy

Orolay Down Jacket (Save)

Julia, 20

Since you'll likely be walking outside a lot more on your new campus, investing in a solid winter coat is a smart move — and you don't need to spend hundreds on a North Face or Moncler to get the job done. While not exactly "cheap," we like the sharp price-point on this viral Amazon gem that combines warm utility with trendsetting style.
Orolay Women's Thickened Down Jacket, $139.99 Buy

The White Company Featherbed (Splurge)

Frankie, 22

If you're going to be stuck sleeping on top of a twin-sized, plastic mattress situation, you may as well invest to make it as comfy as possible. This luxury topper is crafted from a pure cotton-percale casing and filled with two layers of duck down and feathers.
The White Company Luxury Feather & Down Topper Featherbed, $219.00 $175.20 Buy

Lucid Memory Foam Mattress Topper (Save)

Chloe, 20

Playing devil's advocate, if a fancy featherbed isn't your top shopping priority, you can still save on a premium college bed enhancer with this under $100 three-inch topper crafted out of memory foam.
Lucid 3-Inch Ventilated Memory Foam Mattress Topper, $79.99 $69.99 Buy

A New Day Chelsea Boots (Save)

Mady, 21

You don't need to go overboard price-wise on a pair of chic-comfortable going-out booties — especially when you'll likely be scuffing the hell out of them and getting an indeterminable amount of drinks spilled on them. This durable and stylish faux-leather pair from Target hits the shopping nail on the head with an under-$30 price.
A New Day Ellie Chelsea Boots, $29.99 Buy

Dr. Martens 1461 Shoes (Splurge)

Wolfgang, 22

This top-rated pair of shoes is a classic fashion investment that will likely last you a lifetime — both in terms of durability and never-going-out-of-style-ability.
Dr. Martens 1461 W, $119.95 Buy

Wild Fable Crossbody Bag (Save)

Allison, 26

Similarly to the going-out bootie, a going-out purse in college does not need to be pricey. Feel stylish and secure with a $20 bag that you won't cry your eyes out over if it happens to get lost on your way back from the bars.
Wild Fable Quilted Crossbody Bag With Twistlock, $20.00 Buy

Reformation Ribbed Mini Dress (Splurge)

Mady, 21

If you plan to rush for a sorority on campus, then splurging on a nice dress or two will serve you well. Luckily, sales on top brands' trendiest styles are an annual end-of-summer event — so you don't have to cash in too much.
Reformation Ribbed Minidress, $78.00 Buy

The North Face Backpack (Splurge)

Kasia, 20

Spending the extra money on a well made pack goes a long way in supporting your back throughout four full years of heavy textbook toting. The North Face boasts top-rated options made from durable nylon materials with compact compartments and streamlined shoulder support.
The North Face Women's Surge, $128.95 Buy

Bed Bath & Beyond Mesh Shower Tote (Save)

Allison, 26

The multi-compartment, mesh shower tote consistently tops students' shopping lists as the affordable college-essential MVP.
Bed Bath & Beyond Mesh Shower Tote, $9.99 Buy

Urban Outfitters Floral Comforter Set (Splurge)

Allison, 26

Nice bedding can be pricey, but investing in a bundled set will serve you and your wallet well throughout the transitional years ahead — like this brightly patterned comforter, sheet, and pillow case collection crafted from 100%-cotton
Urban Outfitters Iris Sketched Floral Comforter Snooze Set, $169.00 Buy

Duvet Cover (Save)

Marissa, 19

For dorms and starter apartments with inconsistent heat and air that can't be controlled, instead of spending on a stylish comforter, get a basic white insert and then add your own flare with a cute, affordable duvet cover. This reversible style comes with two matching pillow cases and is cheery on one side and calming on the other. It can also be used as a light cover without a comforter.
The Pioneer Woman Ticking Stripe Duvet Cover , $54.60 $33.05 Buy

JBL Portable Bluetooth Speaker (Splurge)

Chloe, 20

Whether you want to take your tunes with you in your shower caddy, to a hall party, or out on your campus's green, investing in a portable speaker with Bluetooth connectivity and durable splash-proof protection is key.
JBL Flip 3 Splashproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker, $72.99 Buy

La Bellefée Drawer Liners (Save)

Mady, 21

Scented drawer liners are a small and inexpensive way to luxe up your college living space. We love this blue-printed roll infused with a fresh clean-linen scent.
LA BELLEFÉE Scented Drawer Liners (Fresh Linen), $16.95 Buy

Apple MacBook Air (Splurge)

Grace, 21

Although a computer is a massive investment, it's one that pays off throughout college and beyond. MacBook Airs are less expensive and more compact than other Apple laptop models and do wonders with user precision in coursework, personal pastimes, and networking,
Apple 13-inch MacBook Air, $1099.00 Buy

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 (Splurge)

Noelle, 20

The flexibility of a tablet meets the workability of a laptop in Microsoft's Surface Pro — the device easily transitions from laptop to tablet and studio modes and has the ability to take digital notes annotated by hand, all at an under $1,000 price tag.
Microsoft Surface Pro 6, $729.99 Buy

Hangit Photo Display (Save)

Kasia, 20

Skip spending too much money on framed prints and movie posters you may grow tired of post first semester and opt for this $20 customizable photo-display unit made from wood and hemp instead.
Dormify Hangit Photo Display, $20.00 Buy

Pier 1 Chair Set (Splurge)

Wolfgang, 22

If your dorm room won't fit a full sofa, try this Papasan chair frame and cushion combo instead as a just-as-cozy seating solution.
Pier 1 Imports Chair Frame With Fuzzy Cushion, $179.95 Buy

Tory Burch Stud Earrings (Splurge)

Chloe, 20

Picking out a pair of high-quality earrings that are secure, stylish, and transitional before heading off to school will make for effortless accessorizing your class to night-out looks.
Tory Burch Crystal Pearl Stud Earrings, $78.00 Buy

Uniqlo HeatTech Shirt (Save)

Noelle, 20

Be savvy with your layers if you're heading off to a cold-weather college — Uniqlo's under $20 HeatTech styles are affordable fashion at its finest.
Uniqlo HeatTech Scoop Neck Long-Sleeve Shirt, $19.90 Buy

Linen & Cloth Designer Throw Pillow (Splurge)

Mady, 21

Investing in room decor is also an investment in self-care; designing a space that brings you joy and comfort can help to ease the home-away-from-home transition. These artful, soft throw pillows are hand-sewn using 100% linen in the U.S.
Linen & Cloth Kate Spade Pardo Fauna Flaxseed Pillow, $45.00 Buy

Toshiba Smart TV (Splurge)

Chloe, 20

Can you put a price on premium entertainment? Maybe you can — but for a 43-inch Toshiba model complete with built-in Fire TV capabilities that will last you through all your college apartments and beyond, the investment price is right.
Toshiba Ultra HD Smart LED TV - Fire TV Edition, $330.00 $249.99 Buy
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