I’m writing this article in response to a question a reader sent me.
He was responding to my article on keeping a budget in college. The reader is a high school student concerned about all the costs of college. He wanted to know what I thought he needed to get moving to college as the bare minimum. He was also asking about textbooks which I have my own dirty little secret about… I’ll get to that though.
Here is the short answer:
You don’t need to buy for anything for college.
No… You don’t need the usual list:
- An awesome comfortable chair
- Noise cancelling headphones
- Good speakers
- A new computer
- Clothes that make you massively uncomfortable but look good
- Shoes that cost more than your old car
Yea… I know that sounds odd. The whole world is trying to sell you stuff for college. Back-To-School ads can have you convinced that you’re going to look like a fool if you don’t prepare properly. Those companies will sell you new sheets, new clothes, and just about anything else you can squeeze into your seemingly 10 square foot shared dorm room.
You’re not falling for that. Sure… you might buy a couple things but you have the good sense to know they’re just pulling your leg. No fancy new something or another will make your life complete. (Tyler Durden agrees.)
There are a few quirks to this strategy you’ll need to know. I call it…
The Wait And See Approach
Kay is going to tell her story to start this section off:
When I was graduating from high school I went to website after website looking for important stuff I needed for college. I ended up with a list of hundreds of things. I was lucky enough to have my parents buy me just about every one of them. My dorm room was packed.
One week into school I realized I was missing another dozen important things. I had to go out again. Then again another week later.
That made me want to go check my list again. I was wondering how I could have missed these things.
As I went through the list I realized that I hadn’t used 90% of the stuff I bought for college. Most of it was just packed away somewhere. I didn’t even know where half of it was. I didn’t even care because now that I was going to class, they just seemed useless.
What’s the moral of this story?
Don’t trust lists online!
I love that moral.
I’d prefer the moral of the story being:
You’ll have plenty of time to buy stuff for school. You don’t need to buy it immediately.
Sure… you want the basics:
- Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, soap, etc.)
- Notebooks, paper, pencils
But you don’t even have to buy most of these things. I’d start the year by just bringing the stuff I have from home. It may not be enough to finish the semester but it’s probably enough to start the semester.
First Class Solution
During the first class teachers will tell you the things that you actually need for their class. That means you won’t have to guess by buying thirty notebooks and a dozen binders of assorted sizes. You just get to wait and see and save a whole buncha’ dough.
If you’re in desperate need for something then you can probably find a way to get it. In most cases, try to just pay attention to the things that you need. Make a list of the things you need when you need them.
If you’re desperate then ask to borrow stuff from other students short term. Believe me, they’ll have their own lists of extra stuff they’re never going to use this semester. They won’t mind.
If that’s not an option then head out to a store and get the minimum off your list.
The best part about this strategy is that you’ll end up needing a whole lot less than you think you do. Most of the stuff you “need” is just based on the habits you’re stuck in. You just think you need them because you’re in the habit of using them. As soon as you’re in college your habits are going to get flipped upside-down.
It’s the perfect time to accidentally simplify your life a little.
Never Buy Your Textbooks (Yet)
I don’t believe in buying textbooks before the semester starts.
It’s usually a waste of money.
Every single semester of college, I had at least one textbook I never opened through the semester. That textbook turned into a $150-$200 paperweight. That may be chump change to some of you but to me that was a serious expense. (I was paying my way through college washing dishes.)
You’ll end up needing most of your textbooks in the long run. You can just buy them a week into the class when you’re confident you’ll need them. That will save you from spending a few hundred dollars on textbooks that will just weigh you down.
Early in the semester you can borrow a textbook from a friend or read it in the library. After the first time a teacher tells you to use your textbook you can buy it used online. You’ll usually only have to manage a week or two around it.
Show Off By Not Showing Off
The biggest objection most people have to this minimalist strategy is fitting in.
No one likes feeling like they’re alone.
If you’re the only student without new stuff then you may feel a little bit left out. New stuff can be a bit of a status symbol. Many students go to college expecting to rewrite their personalities and they use objects as a way of representing it.
They go to school with this illusion that they can improve everything in their life at once. Maybe they’ll make more friends. They will improve their grades. They can have more fun than ever.
This… unfortunately… is just an illusion.
Dressing differently or buying cool new stuff may give you a temporary boost but no object will change who you are. To change who you are you don’t need to buy a thing.
Make yourself proud by not needing to buy things to show off. Be the one person that looks like they’re not trying too hard from day one. Be comfortable in your clothes. Be comfortable with your stuff. And be comfortable with you.
It’s easier and way cheaper that way.
No amount of buying stuff can change the most fundamental parts of you.
Enjoy your life. Don’t just try to enjoy your stuff.
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