When Craig Allen saw two SUVs drive up to the dorms with one pulling a U-Haul trailer, the director of housing and residence life at Texas Christian University knew he had a problem.
"That's never a good sign," he said. "These rooms are 180 to 200 square feet. It's just not going to fit. My advice to parents at orientation is less is more."
As thousands of students head to college this week with carloads of everything from soap to laptops, there are strategies to pack them up wisely and cheaply.
Sales tax holiday: If you are still shopping for your student, be sure to take advantage of the state's sales tax holiday today through Sunday. While the holiday is designed more for students in kindergarten through 12th grade (for example, computers are not on the tax-exempt list), there's no reason you can't snag clothes, school supplies and backpacks.
Most retailers are offering certain school supplies at heavy discounts compared with college bookstores. Target has 50-cent spirals; Office Depot has folders for a penny.
Software and textbooks: Now is also the time to save on other college needs, including software and textbooks.
Microsoft offers its Word software at a discount at most college bookstores. A version of Professional Plus, which sells for $499 at Office Depot, was priced around $30 at the University of Texas at Austin bookstore. Usually a student ID is required and the number recorded.
Savings can be had on college textbooks as well. My nephew's best strategy at Rice University was to borrow books from his college library and then take the hit in overdue fines. The savings far outweighed the purchase price, he said. If this strategy seems a bit extreme, there are other ways to save considerably on textbooks.
One big trend is renting textbooks. The National Association of College Stores says nearly all of its 3,000 members will offer textbook rentals this fall, cutting up to half the cost of buying new.
In July, Amazon.com began renting tens of thousands of textbooks on its Kindle e-reader for up to 80 percent less than list prices. Students can rent the books from 30 days to a year, and can add extra days or buy the book later if they want, Amazon said.
Barnes & Noble bookstore announced last week that it is expanding its textbook rental program to most of its college bookstores this semester, offering savings of up to 75 percent over buying new print versions. Students can rent books either in the campus bookstore or from the bookstore's website, and return them to the bookstore or mail them using free return shipping.
The chain predicts that more than 4 million college students will save more than $200 million during the upcoming academic year through either used or rental books and e-textbooks.
Moving day: Along with wise spending, the next most important shopping strategy for college moving is knowing what not to bring.
My son is heading to UT Austin today with a carload of stuff, but I was surprised how little effort it took to outfit him properly. My guide was the long list on the campus housing website.
I should have looked at it before we bought his bedding -- his dorm bed required extra-long sheets. After taking them back, I stuck to the approved list.
On the UT website, I learned that 15 appliances are not allowed, including that college staple, the slow cooker. In addition, there is a lengthy list of other items to leave at home, from wireless routers to candles. But the list included energy-efficiency substitutes for some items on the do-not-bring list, such as power strips instead of extension cords and fluorescent bulbs instead of incandescent ones.
Many college dorms, including at UT Austin and TCU, now sport the MicroFridge, a combination microwave, refrigerator and freezer, so you don't have to bring any of these. But be sure to bring your own ice cube trays.
The roommate: Another way to save is to find out what the roommate is bringing.
One of Allen's biggest headaches last year was a TCU family who hired someone to mount their student's flat-screen onto a closet door.
"By the time we caught up with him, four other families had hired him," he said. The contractor had to turn around and take them all down. Wall mounts are not allowed in the dorms and are listed on TCU's list of what not to bring.
So stick with the school-approved list. Your move in will be smoother, and your wallet will thank you.
Teresa McUsic's column appears Fridays.