3 Things College Freshmen Should NOT Buy

College freshmen are about ready to step on campus for the first time. It's easy to let spending get out of hand. Here are 3 tips to keep spending in check.

Not only is college tuition expensive, but the experience of college can be expensive. Just take one look at Target’s back to school catalog and you’ll see pages and pages of ways to decorate your dorm room. It’s definitely fun and exciting to go to college as a new freshman, but it’s also important to have your financial wits about you.

I’ve always been frugal but I definitely made some mistakes with my money in college, and I have some regrets. If I were to go back and do it again, I’d take out fewer loans, and I would invest more. Here are some other common tips, and three things college freshmen should not spend money on:

1. Full Price Furniture


When you’re a college freshmen, whether you live in the dorm or in your own apartment, it’s important to avoid paying full price for furniture. When you’re young, you move a lot. (I had several different apartments in college.) So, your furniture can easily get beat up, knocked around during the move, and even run down if one too many friends sleeps on your couch.

For all those reasons, it’s best to just scour your local thrift stores or cruise Craigslist for gently used but still high quality furniture. I got many of my furniture finds from Craigslist and also from a highly discounted furniture outlet store in my college town.

2. Frequent Fast Food


Everyone talks about the “Freshman 15” – the weight you gain during your first year of college. This is likely due to all the fast food that is within arms reach in the student union, and we’re not even counting the late night study snacks and weekend parties. Not only will avoiding frequent fast food help you be healthier, but it can also save you a ton of money.

For a $5 Subway sandwich, you can easily buy items to make sandwiches for the whole week. The $8 you’d spend on two slices of pizza could go towards an entire homemade, fresh pizza that you can enjoy throughout the week. College freshmen need to be taught these basic skills so they don’t waste their money on consumables and instead, can learn to make their money stretch farther.

College freshmen are about ready to step on campus for the first time. It's easy to let spending get out of hand. Here are 3 tips to keep spending in check.

3. Designer Duds


I know it’s fun to have nice things. I’m right there with you. I love a great bag or new dress as much as the next person. However, college freshmen typically don’t have high incomes. They either get money from their parents or they work a minimum wage job.

College students need to think about how many hours they have to work to afford a particular item. For example, if they get a $200 paycheck from working at the mall, they might think they can afford a $100 pair of shoes. However, if you think of it in terms of hours worked, that one pair of shoes could mean a week of driving to work and dealing with customers. Is one pair of shoes worth all that labor?

Changing your mindset and realizing that it’s better to save or invest at a young age will help you be financially fit earlier in life.


What are some other things that college freshmen should avoid buying in their first year of college? What is one thing you bought in college you later regretted? What are some simple ways for college students to save money?

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Catherine Alford is a professional public speaker and freelance writer who covers family, finance, and freedom. Check out her blog, BudgetBlonde, and her bio at


  • What is it they say? Something along the lines of “There’s no better time to live like a broke college student than when you are a broke college student.”

  • Cooking can be iffy in the dorm. In mine, every other floor had a kitchen. It was tiny and not terribly clean. Other than the occasional package of ramen, most students didn’t use it. If you honestly think you’ll cook/make sandwiches, then it’s probably best to purchase a mini fridge. We rented one in our dorm, but it was a tiny little thing that barely held more than a couple of Snapples.

  • The one thing I regretted buying, although I needed one, was my laptop computer. I bought a Dell, and decided I needed all the upgrades (e.g. larger hard drive, better graphics card, etc.). In reality, the base model would have been sufficient. Besides, you can always purchase external hard drives or add RAM when the time comes.

    My other regret was buying textbooks at the campus bookstore before classes started, since most of the time there wasn’t an assigned reading for the first day of class (at least during undergrad). I would often buy them a week before classes started and then come to find out the professor had the textbook on reserve in the library. A five minute walk from my dorm and an hour a day checking out the textbook in the library would have saved me well over a hundred bucks a semester (per applicable book).

    • Cat says:

      Yeah I bought so many computer in college – this was before macs were really popular. They last so much longer. I wish I would have gotten one of those first. And great tip about the textbooks too.

  • I remember the time when I was in college I always had either fast food such as burger and fries or processed food such as noodles, chips, biscuits, etc. So my mom decided to buy me a small rice cooker and brought some freezing food, which could last three days or so.

  • I completely agree, and would add a car! I realize that may sound too obvious to state, but I’ve known too many 18-year-olds with high-interest car loans who have set themselves back financially in a significant way. Also, there’s no need to pay full price for most text books, or even used price at the college bookstore. I found many through the state inter-library program, and is also a great place to get them.

  • I definitely made some of these mistakes too. I spent way too much money on going out to eat and while most of my clothing spending didn’t happen until my 2nd and 3rd years of college, I still bought a few clothing items I couldn’t really afford.

  • Dollie SanFilippo says:

    Alternatives to a car is a bike! Just this week I found a great bike in Goodwill for $19.99!
    Most universities are requiring Freshman to stay in the dorm housing. Of course, buy personal bedding, but wait to find out who your roommates will be to find out if anyone has the refrigerator, microwave, etc.

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