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Handling Dorm Decor When Roommates Come from Different Financial Worlds

Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone CC Admissions Expert Posts: 3,969 Senior Member
QUESTION: I am a single mom, and my oldest son, “John,” will be a college freshman in September. Last week he received his housing assignment and has been exchanging texts and emails with his roommate, who seems nice. So I was pleased when this boy asked for my email address so his mother could write to introduce herself. But when her email arrived, I was overwhelmed. The mom seems very nice, too, but her message included a long list of dorm room “essentials” and a proposal that the boys could share many of them and that we parents could share the costs. Well, the price of college is knocking us for a loop and we can’t afford all the “extras” (as I see them) on this list. Many are big-ticket items by my standards (TV, refrigerator, microwave, Xbox, crock pot, toaster oven, Keurig coffeemaker, etc.) Other items include a rug, an air mattress, an extra chair for guests and more. John and I had actually discussed finding a used dorm-size fridge, but there is no way that I can pay for a television or a gaming system (nor do I want my son to have those temptations in front of him as a freshman) and there is a microwave in the kitchenette on the floor. The roommate comes from a suburb that is known for being a fancy one, and it probably never crossed the mother’s mind that not everyone has as much extra cash hanging around as she does. I had planned to write a friendly reply explaining that we are not in a position to make a lot of purchases. I would also explain that I’d already told John that he should live in his college room for a while before deciding what he really needs and that he can then buy one or two items once he’s accumulated some money from his work-study job. But my son is mortified. He doesn’t want me to tell his roommate’s family that we are “poor” (not the word I would have used but not entirely wrong either!) He says we can come up with the money somewhere and that he won’t start college with his roommate looking down on him or, even worse, buying the stuff himself and viewing John as a charity case. But I feel that we should be honest about what we can afford, which — right now — is almost nothing. So how can I deal with this pleasant but somewhat insensitive mother without driving a wedge between my son and me just before he leaves home?


See https://www.collegeconfidential.com/articles/ask-dean-handling-dorm-decor-roommates-come-different-financial-worlds

Replies to: Handling Dorm Decor When Roommates Come from Different Financial Worlds

  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 Registered User Posts: 3,625 Senior Member
    This was a great answer by the dean.

    And just wow....That mom was wayyyy out of line. I can't imagine students wanting to bring that much stuff into a tiny dorm room, let alone suggesting the other roommate split the cost! As mentioned in the reply, does the school even allow all of that in the dorms?

    I also think it's weird that the mom reached out to the other mom in that way. Kind of screams helicopter parent to me. IMO, that's something for the students to negotiate. My daughter has coordinate all of that with her roommates. They were pushing her to buy a dorm a fridge even though another girl is already bringing one. Technically they are only allowed to have one per room but because they are in a quad, the dorm is saying they can have two. However, they are in a very small room so my daughter pushed back and said that she would prefer to wait to see how much room they have once they move everything in, and see if they really can't live without the second fridge.

    Kids need to get over worrying about what roommates think. Most college students are in the same the boat with needing to worry about expenses.

    If I were this mom, I would send a note back with the introduction stuff but saying that her son is managing the dorm process and that he would be in touch directly with the roommate. It also gets her out of the middle between her son and his roommate.
  • OHMomof2OHMomof2 Registered User Posts: 12,045 Senior Member
    Agree with Dean that the mom doesn't need to explain finances but rather explain the philosophy of buying stuff she and her son have agreed on. Fridge comes, everything else waits. And definitely research what's allowed and what isn't!
  • appalachymomappalachymom Registered User Posts: 158 Junior Member
    Good answer from the Dean.

    My only experience with dorm living was my own many years ago (S will be starting 1st year of college next month), but I really don't understand the "need" for all of this stuff before the students even start. My view of college living is learning to adapt WITHOUT all of the comforts of home. There will be so much going on that more stuff is probably not necessary, and may just make the small rooms more cluttered and claustrophobia inducing.

    Waiting to purchase stuff allows the students themselves to determine what is really necessary, after living in the space.

  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone CC Admissions Expert Posts: 3,969 Senior Member
    My view of college living is learning to adapt WITHOUT all of the comforts of home.

    I agree! Recently I read an article about how to decorate a dorm room to make the child feel as if he or she had never left home. And my first thought was that this must be more for the parent than for the kid. One of the most valuable aspects of going to college is the "going" part. Trying to replicate a home-front bedroom in a dorm won't help a freshman make an important separation nor to learn what he or she really requires ... in a living space and beyond.
  • OHMomof2OHMomof2 Registered User Posts: 12,045 Senior Member
    ....and yet, as parents we want our kids to succeed in college, and that can mean a comfy bed (topper! comforter!) and a functional workspace (desk accessories, storage), ability to snack/cold drinks (a fridge), etc.

    IMO there's a line between that stuff and the beanbag chairs and artwork and microwaves and extra shelving and all that.
  • KnowsstuffKnowsstuff Registered User Posts: 1,743 Senior Member
    Yikes! I will tell you how we did it last year with my son and his roommate. He happened to have a used fridge and we had a microwave. With my daughter the first year we rented the fridge /microwave combo and her second year she bought one off a senior moving. We split the cost with her roommate first year.

    Each kids bed and desk was by a wall. They each did their own thing. My sons wall had Cubs and Michigan stuff on it.

    My son did want to bring his ps4. We were leary about this but he used it as a stress reliever and watched Netflix and movies. We got him a 24 inch monitor... His roommate used it also. They actually used it for homework also. He also discussed this with his roommate prior.

    His room was very large and were at target and saw a futon. He called his roommate and asked if he wants to have this in the dorm but we paid for it and didn't expect his roommate to. They both used it a lot! My son now has it for his apartment at school this year.

    The only things you split is the microwave /refrigerator combo. It's pretty cheap for the year. Besides that, there is nothing to split. We brought up a rug that went between the beds. We bought a mirror for the wall(actually they stuck it in the garbage can and it stayed upright.. Lol) at target.

    If his mom wants the other things they are welcomed to bring it. I am sure her son is rolling his eyes also. Ha There is usually a kitchen on each floor with toasters etc in them also.

    FYI microwave /refrigerator combo might be the only thing you want to split but making popcorn in the room can be a disadvantage also........

    I also know the type of person you are talking about. I don't think it's bad just to make a blanket statement like..." As a single parent I feel it's best that my son go to college with the basic essential he will need. I am sure he and his roommate will fill in the blanks of what they need as they get to know each other" . "If your child will like to bring items that make him feel comfortable at school, please have him do that" "Look forward to meeting you."

    We never met my son's roommates parents BTW

  • elodyCOHelodyCOH Registered User Posts: 278 Junior Member
    I don't think there's anything wrong in responding saying that your son handles his own purchases for items for his room, and he wants to see his storage options after he gets there. By college age, many students buy their own game systems. This is the age where they need to learn how to save, budget, and decide what items are truly necessary and what is nice to have. My son is working summers now, and there's no way he would want to spend a huge amount of money on a game console for his college dorm. He knows this would not be a good use of his limited funds. Some colleges that we visited this year had rooms with game consoles and TVs on each floor. He already has a Nintendo switch and a laptop to play games on. The console would be a luxury on top of that a college student absolutely doesn't need. The mini fridge and microwave are reasonable items for the kids to share costs on. Everything else on that list is overkill. Crockpots? Keurig? I can see this for a first apartment, not a dorm room.
  • LindagafLindagaf Registered User Posts: 8,442 Senior Member
    The Dean gave a great answer. I really wish that all colleges would just mandate that roommates must be contacted before deciding what extras they will both bring. My D's first year roommate brought an extremely bright bare bulb-type industrial light, a large round side table, and cases of Lacroix water that she put on D's side of the room, becasue she had used up all her own space. She and her roomie texted beforehand, but roomie mentioned none of these things. Neede less to say, they didn't get along.
  • tutumom2001tutumom2001 Registered User Posts: 1,000 Senior Member
    edited October 2018
    I'm a "less is more" type of parent. I buy needs, not wants - the kids are responsible for their own wants with the exception of birthdays and Christmas. So, as far as I'm concerned, chip in for the fridge and microwave because you really don't want someone stealing your son's food out of a shared fridge, and I imagine that the standing line to use a microwave at exam time would be lengthy. Everything else on that list is a "want," but if your child really does want a coffee maker or crock pot, I would scavenge Goodwill or other resale shops. As for gaming systems and other fancy electronics, I wouldn't want my child to have those at all and would have no problem saying something to the effect that I would prefer my child not own such a "distraction" for his studies.

    BTW - If you have a coffee-drinking kid in college, that kid is going to need something that makes more coffee than a Keurig. Get a cheap Mr. Coffee at Walmart.
  • HSPOPSHSPOPS Registered User Posts: 40 Junior Member
    Wow. I havent even thought about all this.. Id say its part of the experience and learning to deal with a roommate. Not sure how I would like the PS4 as the first year should be way to busy for gaming. If they arent doing studies why not venture out, make friends and enjoy being a first time adult? Good luck!
  • KnowsstuffKnowsstuff Registered User Posts: 1,743 Senior Member
    edited October 2018
    My son brought his ps4 with a 24 inch monitor to college. We had question marks on this also. He does use it for a stress reliever and for Netflix etc. As we did in high school if the grades go down so does the game console. He explained to us this is an outlet for him. He works, created a group that takes up a lot of his time and plays intermural sports and of course classes and homework. He let his roommate know (sophomore) and wears headphones to not disturb anyone. He and his roommates can watch sports etc since he has access to our Hulu account so the social aspect is positive.

    Also my son reached out to his roomate roommate prior and discussed who's bringing what. My son brought the microwave and the roomate this year brought the toaster and coffee pot (my son doesn't drink coffee).

    We had to keep on him to reach out though. I think it's the parents responsibility to make sure this happens. Yes they are young adults but this is a new skill for most freshman to master also.. It's kinda weird for them to do it. It was much easier doing it for sophomore year then it was as a freshman.

    My wife went to a couple goodwill stores and got plates and utensils in great condition. They just share everything. They each buy their own food but definitely offer each other stuff. His roomate basically has Campbell soups and like 40 boxes of macaroni and cheese..and peanut butter and cereal. Lol.....

    I was just at college and took my son shopping and got fruit, vegetables etc.... He asked me why I got so much and I told him to share with his roomate... Ha. He is in an university apartment this year but still has a smaller meal plan.

  • bopperbopper Forum Champion CWRU Posts: 12,181 Forum Champion
    when buying stuff for the room, each item has to have an owner so when they part ways, it is clear what belongs to whom.
    I think it is perfectly okay to say "Son will get the refrigerator and your son could get a microwave but I am not sure if the other items are necessary at this point."
  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 35,740 Senior Member
    edited October 2018
    The link is broken for me, so can’t see the Dean’s answer. I see no issue with bringing up finances. I’d say something like, “ It is great to hear from you, and so excited that the boys have met each other online. Regarding the room, we were thinking maybe a used fridge could be picked up <blah blah>. Regarding the rest of the items, College X is a financial stretch for us, and they seem like “nice to have items”. If you’d like to provide any of them, no problem with that. But at this time we’ll be planning on making do with what the school provides. Looking forward to meeting you and your son on move in day!”

    If you don’t say that, they are left guessing, and might keep pushing throughout the year and get annoyed. I’d be straightforward and get it out of the way.
  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone CC Admissions Expert Posts: 3,969 Senior Member
    @intparent-I had the same trouble with the link initially when I was using my Mozilla Firefox browser. But it worked fine for me on Chrome and also on my phone (Safari).

    Right now the tech team is tackling this issue because many CC members have not been able to access all of the CC site with Firefox. But, in the meantime, if you have another browser you can try, you will probably be able to get to the articles that aren't working for you now.
  • natty1988natty1988 Registered User Posts: 148 Junior Member
    I think the kids need to handle this. That mom had no business asking the other parents to contribute to all that stuff. Especially when she's talking to strangers she may never meet...
    If the kids want to buy stuff for the dorm room to share, they can talk about splitting the costs with each other. Also, dorm rooms are not that big, you can only fit so much stuff in there and no one likes a cramped dorm room....
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