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Create the Dorm Room You Love on a Budget

Your fall move-in date is closer than you think, which means it's time to start planning your dorm room décor and making your shopping list. Even those dorm rooms that seem like the dreariest of them all — think cinder block walls and fluorescent lighting — can be transformed into cozy living spaces where you'll love to study and hang out. Here are a few ideas to help you customize your space into a welcoming retreat without breaking the bank.

What You Need to Know Before You Start

Colleges can have strict rules when it comes to dorm living. Be sure to read up on them in your handbook or ask your resident adviser (RA) if you're not sure what's allowed. For most schools, hanging pictures with nails is prohibited and some colleges have restrictions on microwave and mini refrigerator usage and size due to electricity concerns and fire safety. While breaking some of your school's dorm room rules might seem harmless, they can land you an expensive fine.

If you can, take measurements of your room, bed, windows and closets. If you are too far to visit your dorm room, try to find measurements on your school's website or through your RA. You want to make sure that anything you purchase will fit nicely without cluttering your already tight quarters. Before you make your shopping list, you'll want to know which furniture comes standard in your room, such as a desk or dresser, so you can figure out how to work with and around them.

Finding a Happy Medium with Your Roommate

Get to know your roommate better by talking room décor before you move in. This can be a great icebreaker and will help you get to know your new roomie's likes and dislikes. If your school gives out your roommate's contact information before the start of the term, reach out by e-mail or set up a meeting over coffee.

If you and your roommate want to try and coordinate your décor, talk about which colors and design looks each of you prefer, as well as styles that you both hate. You might have to compromise on your room's design or color palette, but you and your roommate do not have to have everything matching. Instead, choose colors and styles that complement each other, or if neither of you are overly concerned with coordinating, then you can agree to decorate your respective sides however you like.

It's All About Lighting

Rooms can instantly look cozier with the right lighting. Look for unused white holiday lights in your garage or at a thrift store. Hang them as is or transform them into cute garlands with DIY tutorials using fabric strips, colorful pom poms, faux flowers or even ping pong balls.

Look for desk and floor lamps to brighten up your space. You can personalize plain lamp shades with fabric, scrapbook paper or twine for a unique look. Just make sure any materials you use are safe near the heat and that your light bulb does not exceed the maximum wattage indicated.

Go for Bold Bedding Accessories

Make the bed the focus of the room with bold fabrics and accents. Start with a neutral color comforter, such as white, navy or black. These standard comforters are usually more affordable and easier to coordinate with picky roommates. Add bright colors with fun pillows, sheets, and throw blankets.

By choosing bold bedding accessories rather than bold bedding, you can change up your look without breaking the bank, since a new throw pillow or blanket is often less expensive than a new comforter.

Jazz Up the Walls

Wall space is the hardest area to tackle since paint and nails are generally not an option. However, you can usually still use wall tack or hanging strips to add photos and art to your room without damaging the walls.

Look for affordable frames from your local dollar store or thrift store and spray paint them in your desired color. Even vintage frames repainted in a trendy color can transform a 1950s look into a modern one. Fill them with pictures or printable quotes, or just hang up the frame itself for a stylish look.

Printable art and quotes are easy to find for free online or inexpensively through Etsy. Frame your favorite pieces, decorate your bulletin board with them, or hang them on the wall with decorative washi tape. Wall decals can give the look of wallpaper when aligned in certain patterns.

More Opportunities to Add Color

You don't have to buy all new accessories to give your dorm room a new appearance. Take a look at what you already own and even ask your family members for their castaways. Which items would look fresh with some new paint or fabric or repurposed for a different job? For example, a picture frame can be changed into a memo board or a serving tray with the addition of handles. Boring desk accessories, lamp bases, chairs and even trash cans can become fun pieces by spray painting them a new color.

Stylish Organization

When choosing pieces for your living space, look for multifunctional, stylish items. Maximize your space with ottomans that act as hidden storage and extra seating. Decorative boxes or baskets can organize your stuff — books, makeup, bags, blankets — and look pretty on a shelf or store away neatly under your bed. The right closet organizers, such as collapsible hangers and hanging storage boxes, can help you make the most of your closet space and be used to store non-clothing items. A hanging sweater holder can keep board games or towels organized and an over-the-door shoe organizer can house cleaning supplies or toiletries.

Moving into a dorm is an exciting time. Don't let a small, shared space prevent you from making your room feel like home. By doing DIY projects and borrowing essentials from family and friends, you can even save some cash to put toward your first dorm room pizza party.