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August 16, 2010

How To: Outfit your college student for under $1000

UPDATED 8/16/10, 9:32pm PST – Added a link to an even cheaper version of Office to save you more dough!

I saw an article over the weekend that said that according to the National Retail Federation, college students are cutting their back-to-school spending by 19% (about $150).  There are a lot of theories on why that’s happening, ranging from the increased capabilities of smartphones to the unstable economy to more students continuing to live at home during college.  Regardless of the “real reason” – I suspect it’s a combination of all of those – one thing is clear; families are looking to stretch their budget and make every dollar count. 

So I got to thinking – would it be easy to outfit a college student with the essentials (a laptop, digital camera, and printer) for $1,000?  The answer is most definitely yes…and its easier than you think.

First and foremost, your student needs a laptop.  This is arguably the most important piece of gear that a college students has, as its at the center of writing papers, building presentations, communicating with friends, and more.  I like 13” – 15” machines for college students as they have the keyboard and screen real estate you need for long-haul work, but are still portable enough to fit in a backpack for class-to-class commuting.   Since we’re working of a $1,000 budget, I took a look at the $500(ish) laptops in my inventory and came up with three great choices: HP G62 ($549 via Bing Shopping), the Dell Studio 15 (starting at $449 from, and the Acer Timeline Series ($588 via Bing Shopping).  Click the product name links and read my hands-on posts to get a good idea of what each can do.









Although more and more professors accept papers and presentations in digital format, sometimes you just have to go with good ol’ paper.  Fortunately printers have come WAY down in price and you can get a pretty good one for about $100.  I checked in with Sarah, our resident device expert (and blogger) and she recommended the Lexmark Interact S605 (it’s a scanner, printer, copier all-in-one for $113 on Bing Shopping), and the Canon Pixma MP560 all-in-one that you can get as low as $69.94!).

You’re going to want to remember all of those great college experiences, right?  Then you’ll also need a digital camera.  Sarah just did a blog post on the Kodak EasyShare M530.  It’s a 12 megapixel, Device Stage-ready camera, and you can get it under $100.  Hard to beat that spec line at the price

Let’s see where we stand if we go with the cheapest combination:

  • Laptop: Dell Studio 15 ($449)
  • Printer: Canon Pixma MP560 ($69.94)
  • Camera: Kodak EasyShare M530 ($89.95)
  • TOTAL:  $608.89

That leaves us $391.11 in our imaginary budget.  What else can you get for that dough?  Well, you’ll need a good backpack to lug your new machine around in, and for that, I recommend the OGIO Mastermind, which I use when I’m carrying a heavy laptop load.  You can get one for $64 on Bing Shopping.

Now we’re down to $327.11.  That’s a perfect amount for a copy of Office 2010 Home and Student ($113 via Bing Shopping), Office 2010 Academic Professional for $79.99 and an Xbox 360 Arcade to play when your schoolwork is done ($199 via Bing Shopping).

15 48 bucks to spare!  Plenty for pizza to share with your friends while you show them your new gear.

Have a question about any of this gear?  Post a comment, hit me on Twitter, or Ask Ben Anything via email.  Your question might appear in my monthly Ask Ben Anything Q&A column!