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Off Campus Essentials For If You Get Your Own Place This Summer

By Claudia G. Martinez

No more gross dining hall food. No more dirty communal bathrooms. No more bedrooms the size of closets. And without paying for board, you can even save while moving on up and out of the dorms. Yes, moving off campus is awesome, but be sure you are prepared to comfortably fill up more than a dorm room.

Living Room

There are some students who put a TV and a futon in the middle of a room and call it a living room. While many students do this mostly because the right furniture is too expensive, there is a list of inexpensive items that help make an otherwise drab space into a livable room with style.

An old-school loveseat: Scavenge around and find a comfy seat for two. Make sure that it allows your room design to revolve around it. A tacky loveseat in the middle of a room with a more contemporary look is awkward.

Futon chairs: If you can't find a loveseat that appeals to you, futons are great for a main living area. They are comfortable and compact. A futon also works well as overnight guest accommodations. You can get a cheap one from any major department store or Wal-Mart.

End tables: End tables are a necessary complement to sofas. They're a great place to set your drink, magazines, remote control, or table lamps. Purchase two, and place the pieces of the matching pair at either end of the sofa. People will be impressed at your ability to coordinate.

Area rugs: These are a wonderful touch for main living areas. Complex, colorful weavings of thick fibers are durable and won't show stains. Many students get large rugs even for rooms that are already carpeted as to limit dirty foot-traffic contact with the apartment's original carpeting and save on cleaning.

A coat rack: A multi-pronged coat rack is an attractive, useful accessory. It gives your guests someplace to hang their things. Plus, hanging coats on a rack frees up closet space.

Mirrors: Mirrors add a dimension of vanity to your room. You need at least one decent-sized mirror-- decorative or plain-- to make sure you don't show up to class with drool on your face or your hair in disarray.

If you're really hurting for money, and can't or don't want to ask mom and dad for help, you can still get cool furniture dirt-cheap if you: 1) Go to local thrift shops. 2) Search the classified ads in local papers. 3) Look for other students' end-of-year sales. 4) Ask your friends or their parents for any unwanted stuff they have lying around.

For the kitchen

Just the thought of paying $10 for every meal is reason enough to say bye-bye to life on campus. Unfortunately, students often get off campus, and start eating fast food immediately. This defeats a major purpose of the move. The key to cheap and healthy off campus dining is wise spending at the grocery store. Keep it simple: Load up on pasta sauce and spaghetti, as well as plenty of breads and meat to make sandwiches. Don't forget essentials like salt, pepper, sugar and cooking oil. To save, don't buy your house supplies at the university bookstore. The local university market is closer. It will also be more than worth your while to hit the supermarket or local food warehouse where food is sold in bulk. Some of these places require a membership, but the fee is minimal compared to the savings.

Also remember that you can't cook or eat without: utensils, pots and pans, plates, and cups. More than one set comes in handy if you ever plan to invite your on campus buds over. If you don't have a fully equipped kitchen (think fridge, stove, microwave, and oven), a personal fridge, a toaster oven, and a microwave should be good enough to get you by. Now, if you want to splurge on a party item, get a kegerator. It allows you the luxury of never having to buy bottled or canned beer. Just tap the keg when you're ready to drink, and un-tap when you're finished. It's not cheap, but it's definitely something that your undergrad friends will not frown upon.

Bathroom

You've dealt with stocking up a living room. Don't forget that you now have to deal with other rooms too. The bathroom will certainly need some toilet paper, a shower curtain, a soap dish, rug, toothbrush holder, and trash can. You'll also need the usual toiletries: shampoo, bath soap and all that stuff you already own.

General Electronics and Let There be Light

You'll have no problem remembering your computer, stereo, DVD player, and TV. But the most important piece of electronic equipment you can bring is a lamp. There are no college-supplied fluorescent overheads, and you don't want to live in a cave. Halogen lamps provide great light, and the average-priced one doesn't cost more than one of your textbooks. A safety tip: Cover the lamplight's top with a metal grill. Lights get hot when they're turned on, and these can potentially ignite any objects that may touch it.

Communications

What else? You'll have to set up your own phone and Internet lines no more university access. No more instant cable television hook ups either. Factor these into your expenses, as well as the cost of utilities. They're worth it.

Cleaning

Other critical items often overlooked are cleaning supplies. You'll want to be consistent unless you don't mind swimming in a tub of germs. And there's no more relying on mom or a cleaning staff. It's all you. Bring a vacuum cleaner and a broom for the floors. A mop would be ideal too. Get vacuum bags, Pinesol, dish soap, and disinfectants. Avoid ammonia and bleach since they are difficult to handle. Many items used for the kitchen can also double for the bathroom. You can use the same tile cleaner and the same two-sided sponges used for dishwashing to scrub the shower, tub or sink. Of course, don't use the exact same ones. You'd just be spreading germs. And don't scrub the toilet bowl with these unless you're very brave. They sell special scrubbing tools for that so that you don't have to get your hands dirty!

In Conclusion

It might seem like there's a lot to buy and remember. But, a having your own place is an investment. And even if it's little by little, you'll soon learn that it is possible to make a humble apartment into a palace.


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