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

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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, $169.44, available at Amazon

Alo High-Waist Legging (Splurge)

Allison, 26

For some, college years are the, “I lived in leggings,” years — so invest in a quality pair 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.

Alo Yoga High-Waist Moto Legging, $114, available at Alo Yoga

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, available at Target

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 college and beyond, the investment price is right.

Toshiba Ultra HD Smart LED TV – Fire TV Edition, $249.99, available at Amazon

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 – Black, $88, available at Everlane

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, $175.2, available at The White Company

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, $69.99, available at Amazon

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, available at Target

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, available at Target

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, available at Amazon

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, available at Apple

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, available at Urban Outfitters

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, available at Amazon

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, available at Amazon

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, available at Zappos

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, available at Pier 1 Imports

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, available at Shopbop

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, available at Dormify

Orolay Down Jacket (Splurge)

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. We love the price-point on this viral Amazon gem that combines warm utility with trendsetting style.

Orolay Women’s Thickened Down Jacket, $139.99, available at Amazon

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, available at Amazon

Linen & Cloth Designer Throw Pillow (Splurge)

Mady, 21

Investing in dorm-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, available at Etsy

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, $15.41, available at Walmart

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