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20 Dollar Store Dorm Essentials

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College is expensive enough that students don't want to spend excessive amounts of money on dorm room supplies. Enter dollar stores: awesome places to stock up on dorm stuff for cheap prices. Cheapism.com compared checklists from the College Board and How to Nest for Less with the stock at Dollar General and Dollar Tree.


A versatile cleaning spray is a useful product to keep in a dorm room. Fellow residents may even want to borrow it, so buy it on the cheap. Dollar Tree sells many generic options in large sizes (20 to 25 ounces) for $1 each, and Dollar General has more recognizable brands, such as Clorox, for less than $3. Bonus thrifty tip: Buy one spray bottle and then replenish it using 64-ounce refill bottles from Dollar Tree.


Not having a simple manual can opener can be frustrating when students get hungry between meals, so arrive at the dorm prepared. Most dollar stores stock generic can openers for $1 to $3. Dollar Tree's offering draws particularly positive reviews.


Most dorm closets don't come with hangers, so bring plenty. Ten notched, plastic, white hangers at Dollar General sell for $1.35. Well-reviewed, felt-covered, swivel-head hangers at Dollar Tree online cost $1 for two by the case (a total of 30 units -- 60 hangers -- for $30); individual two-packs are available in-store.


Besides classes, tailgating and picnicking might be on a college student's agenda, so an easy-to-store cooler (i.e., not a plastic one) can be useful to have around. True Living's soft, flexible coolers come in assorted colors, hold up to 24 cans, have zippers and pockets, and cost $10 at Dollar General.


Dorm rooms may not have kitchens for gourmet cooking, but many students bring microwaves and choose to store non-perishables, such as ramen and mac-and-cheese boxes, for times when cafeteria fare seems wanting. With no sink for washing dishes, such feasts call for a seemingly endless supply of plasticware. Dollar General sells a 45-pack of Hefty Everyday Soak Proof plates for $2; 135 foam bowls for $8; and 48-count heavy-duty fork packages for $1 each. Assorted cutlery packs run $18 for 18 units of 48-count packets (that's a lot of utensils). Red party cups cost $2 for a pack of 26.


It's a smart idea to keep a mini first-aid kit in a dorm room, and assembling your own is the best value. Dollar stores in general are excellent spots to pick up the necessary items at low prices: bandages, sterile tape, adhesive tape, hydrogen peroxide (consider pouring from a bigger, value bottle into a cheap mini container as needed), cotton swabs, pain relievers, thermometers, and anti-itch and anti-bacterial creams. Dollar stores tend to carry generic brands that serve the same purpose as name brands. A $1 plastic pencil box with a snap lid from Dollar General could be perfect for storing the components.


In many dorms, it's common for residents to hang dry erase boards on the outside of doors so they can receive and leave messages. At Dollar Tree, an 8.5-by-11-inch with two markers costs just $1. Some reviewers grouse about the width but say it gets the job done and is worth the price. Dollar General also sells six-packs of colored dry erase pens for $1.25.


Dryer sheets prevent static and act as fabric softeners. They also make clean laundry smell good. Dollar General offers a sweet deal on a generic brand at $2.85 for 110 sheets, as well as the Gain brand at $5 for 120 dryer sheets and the Bounce brand at $5 for 105 sheets.


Many dorm rooms don't come with air conditioning and/or can get stuffy, so a fan can be vital to keeping the space cool and fresh. A classic 12-inch, three-blade oscillating table fan at Dollar General is just $15. Dollar Tree carries miniature, battery-operated fans in fun shades for $1 each when you buy several.


College students usually use "shower shoes" in dormitories when sharing bathroom space with other residents. Dollar Tree stocks flip-flops in a variety of colors and sizes for $1 each that function as shower shoes. The shoes earn solid reviews online, where you must order 12 at a time (available individually in-store).


Bottles of sanitizer can be handy to have around a dorm room. Get six 8-ounce bottles for $9.30 at Dollar General, and you'll probably be set for the entire school year. Alternatively, Dollar Tree sells the mini, travel-size variety in multipacks.


A narrow desk lamp that doesn't take up a lot of space is the best bet for a cramped dorm room. Dollar General offers 14-inch-high lamps with small, 4-inch bases in a variety of colors for $7 each, with basic lampshades sold separately for $5 each. For a more personalized look, decorate Dollar General's tan or white shade with decorative craft tape from Dollar Tree or find a snazzy one elsewhere, as the lamps fit with standard 1.5-inch shades.


College laundry woes are legendary, but try to save on the detergent, at least. Dollar General features an assortment of name-brand detergents at competitive prices (comparable to Walmart, in this case). Arm and Hammer Liquid Detergent costs $5.25 for 75 ounces, while Tide Pods are $18 for 72. The best deal is probably Purex Liquid Detergent, which is marked at $3.95 for 75 ounces.


Pick up several $1 miniature picture frames at Dollar Tree so students can bring snapshots of home to display. Assorted sizes of simple but sturdy photo frames cost $1.50 to $6 each at Dollar General.


A hallmark of dorm rooms everywhere is wall posters displaying entertainment fandom, art, photography, and more. Adhesive strips won't damage the posters or the dormitory wall. An eight-count pack of generic 3M command poster hanging strips is just $1.65 at Dollar General.


Paper, pens, pencils, notebooks, folders, rulers, tape, scissors -- all available as dollar deals at any dollar store. The items might not be top quality, but the value can't be beat.


Shampoos and conditioners are cheaper at Dollar Tree than Walmart. You won't find the fancy stuff -- brands available at Walmart include White Rain and VO5 -- but you might choose to sacrifice here in order to save for other expenses. Dollar General sells higher-end brands, such as Herbal Essences, Fructis, and Tresemmé at competitive prices.


Simple slippers come in handy when padding around on dormitory floors, and they're cheap at dollar stores. Pick up one pair or a few at Dollar General, where they come in black, light blue, and pink and feature plush terry cloth with cushioning and bottom traction, for $3.50 each. Shop at Dollar Tree online and buy 12 pairs for $12 to share with dorm buddies.


Really, you can never have enough socks, especially for college students who might not do laundry as often as they (or parents) do at home. Both dollar stores sell value packs (usually five to 10 pairs) in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes for prices that amount to less than $1 a pair.


One way to maximize the tiny space of dorm rooms: Store belongings in plastic containers. Dollar Tree sells trendy designs that cost a buck apiece when buying by the case (usually 24). (Tip: Share with roommates.) Ziploc Space Bags cost $12 for three, or $6.75 for two at Dollar General. These are huge bags that fit in tricky spots, such as under the bed. Generic plastic kitchen containers for food storage are also a steal at dollar stores.

Gina Martinez

Gina Martinez is a freelance writer who teaches college-level composition and literature courses and has an M.A. in English. She lives on the cheap in New York City with her majestic lapdog.

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