Heading off to college for the first time offers you a unique opportunity to reinvent yourself. You're set in a position where you have both a wealth of new and creative ideas to define your personal style, and a dearth of stuff. Sure, you get a "furnished" dorm room with all the essentials--a bed, a chair, a desk, and all the friends you could ever need--but, uh, everyone else in the dorm has that, too. EXACTLY the same stuff, in fact. So why not start off your college career by differentiating yourself from the crowd? I've compiled a list of my top 5 favorite college appliances from thrift stores that will spark life into your dorm/apartment/house, without bleeding your wallet any more than you already have to. With these ideas, you can be remembered as "Josh, the guy with 40" TV!" instead of just "The guy who doesn't shower" (though I do suggest showering, at least sometimes).
#5: Bread Machine
I know, you're probably thinking, "What? I've never even seen a bread machine before…" To be honest, I haven't actually used one either, but think about it: a few simple ingredients thrown into the machine, press a button, and you get warm, steaming bakery-style fresh bread. This is classy living, guys. Another reason I like the bread machine idea is because there's a little bit of treasure hunting involved. Bread machines are not necessarily an easy find at a thrift shop, but if you can find a good one, you're golden. I like hunting in thrift stores, so this is an enticing idea for me. Sadly, I can't quote prices on this one because I haven't actively sought a bread machine (yet…). I'm putting this one lower on the list because it can be a fun idea, but I wouldn't call it a top priority.
If you're in college, you like music. Period. And while those sleek iPod headphones work great for walking to class, when you're at home you want to experience your music, not just listen to it. Old stereo systems are pretty plentiful at thrift stores from my experience, especially stores near campus. The best part is that average or above average systems that cost around $100 retail can go for somewhere between $15 and $30 at a secondhand store. That's only a couple of hours at work! (Does anyone remember the "One Paycheck" Nintendo 64 commercial?) This is definitely a great idea if you are a music lover or like to entertain.
#3: Panini/Waffle/Donut/You-Name-It Maker
Learning to cook has kind of a Yin-and-Yang effect in college; it's so fun to think about what you could cook, but when you have to make your own meals every single day, it grows tiresome. The wonderful people in Infomercial Land and As Seen On TV came to the rescue here and invented a whole assortment of "easy cook" devices that are designed to cook the perfect burger, waffle, sandwich--you name it. $19.95 is not an overwhelming price to begin with, but when you can get these at a thrift store for around $4, it's a no-brainer. And let's face it: nothing says "Makin' it on my own!" like Saturday morning homemade waffles. Yum! Do be wary that dorms often don't allow appliances like this with exposed heating elements, though.
#2: Big Screen TV
I shouldn't have to convince you why this is a good idea. It's Big. It's TV. It's a Big TV. Whether you're watching the individual beads of sweat rolling off your school's football team or showing your floor who's the boss at Smash Brothers, a bigger TV always means more fun. I have to admit, though, that this is by far the priciest item on my list: somewhere in the range of $80 to $200. It is a lot of cash, I know, but you've got to consider the value on this one: those TV's were probably more than $500 retail. The other downside with this one is that these cheap TV's are almost always huge--no flatscreen LCDs get left at thrift stores. That being said, if you can prove me wrong on that one, share with us in a comment below!
#1: Espresso Machine
Perhaps this only applies to a targeted audience of coffee lovers, but this has been the coolest thrift store find for me. Even if you don't drink coffee that much, you're aware that those addicting Starbucks drinks cost $4 bucks a pop, which probably doesn't sit well with you if you're reading this list. But now you can make them at home, for less than half the price! Most of these machines come with both an espresso brewer and a milk steamer, so your precious lattes will be a breeze to make. The main reason that the espresso machine tops my list is because it has the best combo of all the attributes I've listed for the others: usability, value, treasure hunting, and cool factor. I've already covered the usability part. As for value, these machines can go for $20, $50, or even $100 retail, and I've found not one, but two machines for $6 each. Just like I mentioned with the bread machine, espresso machines are a little harder to find, but they're worth the hunt. And finally, coffee is better with friends, which you'll have a lot of after you score this bad boy.
So those are my top 5 college thrift store appliances. The best thing about thrift store purchases like this is that they're so cheap that you can try a lot of different options and really have a chance to figure out what fits you best. And I'm still in college, and still figuring out the thrift store scene myself, so do you have any good ideas? Talk to us about what crazy finds you've had by leaving a comment! (I'm sure relative prices would be greatly appreciated, if you're willing to disclose them).