Best dollar store buys for outfitting a dorm room

While in the dollar store recently, I witnessed a scene that must be happening in dollar stores all over North America. A Mom was helping her college-bound son pick out kitchen ware, bath ware and cleaning essentials for his first foray into life away from home. Been there, done that -- twice. But in case you haven't yet, here are my picks for the great and not-so-great deals to help you save money as you nudge your fledgling out of the nest.

1. Dishes. Check your favorite department store for inexpensive boxed sets. I saw a 16-piece set for $16.87 at Wal-Mart. At the dollar store, each piece is $1, so the boxed set is almost as cheap and certainly a lot easier to transport to a first apartment or dorm room. On the other hand, if you don't want or need four place settings and don't care if everything matches exactly, buying each piece individually could be the way to go.

2. Silverware. I saw an off brand set of 20-pieces of silverware that comes with its own storage tray. That's two items off the list for $6.97. At the dollar store, each piece costs $1 so buying the set is definitely the way to go. Even if you only need two forks, two knives and two spoons, you'll still be spending $6 at the dollar store.

3. Drain board and dish rack. A plastic two-piece set at Wal-Mart cost $7.76. At the dollar store you pay a buck a piece but you're still saving $5.76 over the department store price. Of course, if your student is headed to the dorms, it's likely he won't need these items, since he won't have his own kitchen.

4. Food storage containers. How many food storage containers does one student need? You could buy the 30 piece set at Wal-mart for $9.87 and keep some of the pieces for yourself, but speaking from experience, I'd be more inclined to buy two or three dollar store containers for a buck each.

5. Shower curtain. A plain vinyl shower curtain costs $9.97 at Wal-Mart. It may be a little better quality than the version the dollar store offers, but I'd still rather pay $1 than $10 for something that's only going to be in use for a few months. You can also get some metal shower curtain rings for $1 per package of 12.

6. Waste baskets. You can get a nice bathroom waste basket at the dollar store for only $1. Why pay $14.97 for virtually the same thing at the department store just because it's got a design on it? You can also get a nice sized mesh waste basket for $1, which would be good for sitting near the desk.

7. Kitchen tools. Your student is going to need some basics like a vegetable peeler and spatula. The cheapest kitchen tool I saw at Wal-Mart was $1.47 for a punch can opener. You can get two of those for $1 at the dollar store, along with sturdy plastic spatulas, vegetable peelers, paring knives, measuring cups and lots more. By far the better deal.

8. Kitchen towels. Wal-Mart beat the dollar store by 3 cents for the same quality kitchen towel and you can also get a set of six tea towels for $5.97. The dollar store tea towels, which I happen to like very much, are $1 each, but you're not saving any money there. Check your local department store to see what deals are available in your area.

9. Cleaning supplies. We can load our student up with all the latest cleaning tools in the hopes that they will be inspired to clean more than once in the proverbial blue moon but who are we kidding? I sent my two off with a dollar store bucket, broom, mop, dust pan, microfiber cleaning cloth for dusting and a package of 12 double sided cleaning sponges. Total cost, $6. The broom handle, broom and mop head are each sold separately and the mob head fits the broom handle. At the department store, a broom and dust pan set alone costs $6.97.

10. Drinking glasses. I saw a set of four 15 1/2 oz glasses for $3.97, so that about matches the dollar store glasses at $1 per. But the department store juice glasses are the same price for four and the dollar store sells them in sets of three for $1, so for $2 you can have six juice glasses.

Marlene Alexander is a freelance writer and dollar store diva. She writes articles on budget decorating using only items from the dollar store.

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