College Countdown: Tips for Shopping, Packing and Trucking Your Child Off to College

Start planning and shopping now with your child for their college needs.


Helping your child get ready to leave for college is a big job. Deciding what to take, shopping, packing and figuring out how to transport everything takes thought and time. 


Before you shop, rent a truck now if your child is taking furniture to school. Trucks get snapped up quickly during back-to-school season. One year, we almost missed the boat, uh, truck, when rentals in a 25-mile radius were booked and we had a boatload of my daughter’s furnishings to take to school.

Comparison shop for rental trucks, not only companies, but locations within a company’s website. My husband and daughter spent 30 minutes comparison shopping online and saved more than $155 on a 17-foot truck that will also haul a friend’s belongings. The truck cost $314 in Norristown. In Horsham, the same truck from the same company cost $159. Search locations beyond the initial website offerings which are based on your ZIP code. Rental costs fluctuate like airline fares.

Calculate mileage costs. Any mileage over a package offer can add up fast.

Make a List, Check it Twice

Use collegeboard.com’s comprehensive packing list as a template for your shopping list.

Before shopping, check the college’s website or mailings to see what size sheets to buy. Most college beds are extra-long twins.  Nextag.com lists numerous vendors with these sheets, including L.L.Bean’s offer of flannel sheets for $25 and free shipping.

Also, check the college’s policy about what small appliances are allowed in dorm rooms. Schools differ on what electrical appliances students may use in their rooms.

Eversave.com offers wise advice on shopping for college:

  1. When buying items, take the size of the room your child will be in into consideration.
  2. Have your child talk to his or her roommate to determine who needs to bring what.
  3. Take your child shopping with you. Don’t go alone and just buy what you like.
  4. Make sure you get your child everything he or she needs before heading off to school. Once you get to school, it is very hectic trying to set up a room and shop for necessities.

We needed to pick up a few things at Target last year when our second-born moved in at University of Pittsburgh. I witnessed weary parents pushing overloaded carts, while their “first-year” forged ahead, scanning aisles for more necessities. Save yourself the hassle. 

Arrive with what is needed. Your child will be on overload with new surroundings, acquaintances, orientation and schedule. Use the time colleges allot for shopping to walk around campus and help your child find his classrooms. This will lower his anxiety during those first crucial weeks.

Brick-and-Mortar and Online Shopping

Compare store circulars for best buys. Plan a shopping route to get the best buys on big purchases, as well as small ones. Use coupons from the Sunday paper — they coordinate with store sales. The extra travel and coupon clipping will be time well spent to save big bucks, rather than buying everything “unplanned” at one store. Setting up for college is expensive, so save yourself some money. 

Bed, Bath and Beyond’s website has a “Shop for College” tab on its homepage. Besides decorating ideas, the site offers two nice services:  a college registry of things wished for in a room, and a shipping service. Shop Bed, Bath and Beyond online and pick up your purchase near your child’s college. This is especially helpful for students needing to fly to college. Ask friends to save Bed, Bath and Beyond coupon mailings for you. Every bit helps.

If time is of the essence, shop online at dormbuys.com. The site offers items your child needs to set up home away from home. Products include bath and laundry items, appliances, furniture and décor.  Laundry items were reasonably priced. Orders are shipped via FedEx or UPS, and shipping prices coincide with the amount spent on items.

One purchase I suggest for anyone with lots of shoes is a closet organizer. My daughters have Closet Maid horizontal organizers and stack shoes three high. Lowes sells the 24-inch organizer for $12.98. 

Walmart offers a number of organizers for different needs. In small spaces, organization is key to maximizing space and making things easier to find. 

When shopping is done, start packing. Reduce stress by packing ahead of time, and enjoy the last day or two with your child before he leaves for school.


If you need suitcases and do not want to spend a bundle, check out thrift stores like or the . My daughter found two indestructible, American Tourister suitcases in excellent shape for less than $8 each. The older suitcases do not have wheels, but our retro-daughter did not care. Open the suitcase to see if the lining is clean and does not smell musty.

Packing boxes are expensive. They can be purchased at office supply stores or rental truck companies for a premium. Boxes cost less at Lowes. A small box (16x12x12) costs 70 cents. A medium box (18x18x16) costs $1.12. Big boxes are heavy and awkward to carry. 

Encourage your child to pack like things together in boxes, rather than throwing “stuff” willy-nilly into boxes:

  • Winter coat, gloves, boots
  • Printer paper, toners, notebooks, pens
  • Toiletries

Laundry supplies and hangers may be packed in a sturdy laundry basket.

When packing, have your child write his name on the box and a brief description of contents. Labeling prevents confusion and makes items easier to find when unpacking. 

Seal boxes with packing tape. If a box is bumped, the contents will not be flung onto the dorm hall floor, thus preventing dreaded humiliation.

Pack tools for assembling loft beds, desks and organizers. A hammer, screwdrivers, tape measures and wrenches are things you want for set up. A heavy-duty extension cord may be needed for a mini-fridge.

A last bit of advice from a second-year sage: Don’t pack too much.  You probably won’t need it.

Starting now to shop, pack and reserve a truck will save time and money, and help you and your child transition more easily into college life.


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