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  • It’s important to have a laptop or tablet in college for taking notes and submitting assignments. Save money by purchasing refurbished or last season’s model.
  • Don’t skip out on college essentials such as a phone plan, backpack, and textbooks.
  • Whether you’re living in a dorm or an apartment, you’ll need the basics for move-in day—including towels, bedding, and storage bins.

You're off to college. One of the challenges of starting life as a freshman is packing up your whole life and then trying to fit it all into a small dorm room. How do you prepare for everything you need while you start the adventure of living away from home and your parents?

You might be surprised to find out that you can make do without a lot of the pricey items that appear on many checklists.

Here are five things you actually need as you start college.

1. Laptop or tablet computer

Whether you're taking notes in class, doing research, or writing papers, a portable computer is helpful. Choose a computer that is easy to use when typing. If you decide on a tablet, it may be worth the extra expense to purchase a portable keyboard to take notes and complete assignments.

Additionally, thanks to cloud sharing systems, it's often possible to connect your device to the school's wireless network for cheaper access. You might even be able to use that wireless connection to print assignments from the university computer lab—although an increasing number of professors expect you to upload your documents to a university content management system.

Your computer can also double as an entertainment device to stream your favorite shows and movies so you can likely do without a TV. 

Use your student discount when you purchase your computer, and consider a refurbished computer or last season's model for even more savings.

2. Inexpensive phone plan

You'll need to stay connected and an inexpensive phone plan can help with that. A family or shared plan can offer savings, but if you need a solo plan, then there are options that won’t break the bank. Shop around for carriers that offer low-cost plans to see what works best for your needs and wallet. Remember to factor in the cost of the phone if you need a new one, or see if anyone has a phone they are no longer using that they are willing to part with for free or low cost.

3. Backpack

Textbooks are still required for many classes. Therefore, don't skip out on a backpack. There are a number of book bags designed with laptops in mind, so you can carry your computer and your books. Look for a backpack that is well made to lug around those heavy textbooks and offers sufficient space for your needs, including areas for power cords, snacks, and a water bottle.

4. Textbooks

Even though you still need textbooks, you may not need to spend an arm and a leg. You can buy textbooks secondhand, rather than buy new. There are also textbook rental sites that allow you to pay a smaller fee and rent either hard copy or digital textbooks.

With a little planning, you can start off on the right foot with what you need for college, and you won't have to worry about busting your budget.

5. Dorm room essentials

There are a few things that make sense when you live in a dorm room, or if you plan to share an apartment with others. Bath towels and wash cloths, personal hygiene items, and a good shower caddy for carrying your items to and from the bathroom are simple items that you can purchase on sale or with coupons. Other dorm room essentials include:

  • Basic first aid kit
  • Trash can and trash bags
  • Laundry bag and detergent
  • Desk lamp
  • Bedding (many dorm beds require XL sheets, so be sure to double-check)
  • Batteries
  • Basic toolkit (should include hammer, screwdriver, and ratchet)
  • Bed lifts to create extra storage (some university housing programs still offer cinder block rentals for a cost that is lower than bed lifts bought at the store)
  • Over-the-door hooks
  • Storage bins for organization if your room doesn't come with built-ins

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