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Handling Dorm Decor When Roommates Come from Different Financial Worlds

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Question: I am a single mom, and my oldest son, “John," will be moving into the dorm soon. Last week he received his housing assignment and the roommates have been exchanging texts and emails. 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 roommates 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?

Being a college parent will surely require many fine lines to tread, and you're already facing your first one before your son has even left home. But “The Dean's" advice to all parents — whether rolling in dough or poor as church mice — is to embrace a “less is more" view of dorm accoutrements, especially at the start of the school year. Most newbie collegians are pretty clueless about what they will really require, and “must-have" lists can vary widely from student to student and from college to college.

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