How to Pack for College Without Breaking the Bank

As you make your packing list for moving to college – whether it’s for your first or fifth semester – you might be overwhelmed by what it costs to outfit a residence hall room or apartment. But before you spend hundreds of dollars on new stuff, take a look around your house (or your parent’s house) for items you could use instead of buying new. In addition to saving you money, reusing or repurposing items prevents the excessive production of new items, which in turn helps reduce waste. So, if any of the items below are on your packing list, read carefully for some cost-saving, reuse ideas you must try:


Pen and pencil holder for your desk

Sure, you can buy a holder, but a washed tin can will do the trick for $0. Just carefully remove the top and make sure the inside edge is smooth. If you’re into decorating, there are lots of ways you can turn a plain tin can into a work of art. A mason jar or even a cup would work as well.



Of course, you can buy bookends, but a brick will do the trick just as well. In fact, it might even be better than what you buy at the store. How much more NC State can you get than incorporating a brick into your bedroom décor?


Alarm clock

If you have a cell phone, you probably don’t need one of these. Just set your phone’s alarm clock to wake you up; that’s one less electronic item to buy, pack and move to campus.


Under-the-bed storage containers

You arrive on campus when it’s hot and humid outside but by the time you finish the semester you’ll be bundling up to face winter. That means you need summer clothes, winter clothes and a place to store the clothes you aren’t currently using. You could buy fancy plastic containers to increase storage capacity under your bed, but the suitcase that you pack clothes in to come to NC State is probably all you need. Bonus: the clothes you store in a suitcase won’t pick up that weird plastic smell from sitting for weeks in a plastic storage bin.


Small storage containers

Shoe boxes are awesome at this. They’re compact, sturdy and stack well – perfect for compact spaces. Just label or decorate them for easy organizing.


Photo frames

There are clever and creative ways to display your favorite photos without buying photo frames. You could create a photo collage right on the wall, use string and clothes pins/clips to hang photos, or use temporary tape to create the illusion of a photo frame.



If you’re not bringing a TV and you’re roommate isn’t either, turn to your computer, phone or tablet. And while we haven’t tried to this $1 trick to turn your phone into a projector, it has some pretty big return on investment if it actually works!



Should you be someone who wants to take handwritten notes during class, check your old notebooks first before buying new. Bet you probably have many notebooks that are not even half used. Remove the old notes and use the remaining paper for your next class.


Shower shoes

You could buy some shower shoes, but you probably already have old flip flops or sandals that would do the trick. Check your closet before you buy new.


Decorative pillows

Go spend a bundle on new ones, or customize your own to save money and treasure memories. There are many ways you can turn an old t-shirt into a custom pillow. Many of these DIY designs don’t require sewing skills, so they’re easy for anyone to make.


Anything else you need

Before buying new, ask around to see if someone has an item you can have or borrow. Often, we store items that we no longer have a use for, so it’s just a matter of matching items currently serving no purpose with people who could put those items to good use. Start asking around!