How to Decide if a Purchase is “Worth It” in College

You're on your own during college, but that also means paying attention to what you buy. How do you decide if something's worth it or not?

Flickr user Lisa

Recently two freshmen girls from Ole Miss have gone viral thanks to their dorm room makeover–overhaul might be a better word. The two coordinated through email to completely redecorate the standard dorm room and turned it into something straight out of a fancy home decor magazine.

The transformation elicited two reactions: 1) This is so awesome! 2) What a waste of money! While the dorm room is certainly impressive, it brings about the question: was it worth it? Clearly a lot of money went into the stylish makeover, and while some dorm room decoration is expected–who doesn’t want to personalize a little bit?–there are probably better ways that money could have been utilized.

Keep in mind this is the first time many students are on their own financially. Mom and Dad aren’t going to always be there to pay for new clothes or games or other splurges, not even necessary things like meals or school supplies. You’re on a budget now, likely working a part-time job between classes, and you need to spend smart and emphasize saving your hard-earned money–there’s tuition and loans to pay back, after all.

So how do you determine if a purchase is “worth it” or not while in college? And we’ll be talking about non-school related purchases, here. Hopefully with some of these tips in mind, you can be a savvy spender and use your money wisely.

Do You Need It?

A fairly basic question, one that many a shopaholic seem to forget. (I’m guilty of this myself; the second I walk into a bookstore I grab books by the handful and conveniently forget about my mostly empty wallet). When you find something you like, whether it’s a new t-shirt, a video game, some dorm decor, or whatever else, ask yourself–do you need it?

Do You Really Need It?

If you’re tempted to buy, ask yourself the same question again. You’ll be surprised how often a second-thought will keep you from putting that item in your shopping cart. Taking a step back and reevaluating the potential purchase will save you some cash in the long run.

Can You Fit it in Your Budget?

Now that you’re in college on a limited (or nonexistent) budget, you’re going to have to space things out and really think about purchases. Some things will just not work with the amount of money you have. Ask yourself if you can really afford a purchase while looking at the grand scheme of things. To make this easier, prioritize! Think about all the spending you have to do: textbooks, food, tuition, other school fees, household items, etc.

Are You Celebrating Something?

Of course, it’s good to treat yourself every once in a while. College is hard work and you deserve a reward! Try to stave off bigger purchases until birthdays, holidays, or you survive midterms and finals. Saving up for something makes it all the more worthwhile when you finally have enough to pay for it.

If It’s Worth It, Will It Last?

Purchases that last a long time are oftentimes the best. Try to get the most bang for your buck. These can include clothes, shoes, books you can re-read, games you can replay, tools, kitchen supplies, etc. Anything that you’ll use / enjoy for many years to come.

How Can I Save Money on This Purchase?

Take every advantage you can when making a purchase. Look for coupons, sales, discounts, deals. If you see something you really like at a department store, search for the same thing at a competitor’s store, who has the better price? Or look for the item online. Exhaust your options before making a full-priced purchase.

These are just a few things to keep in mind while making purchases in college. We all know how dangerous window shopping or browsing Amazon can be. So the next time you’re debating completely reinventing your dorm room or saving up that cash to put into your savings account, think through these questions.

Speaking of saving money, you can use College Raptor’s match tool for free! With it you can discover your acceptance odds at colleges around the country, be matched to schools based on academic fit and your preferences, and see what kind of financial aid you could be offered!