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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.