Massage Pillows, Milkshake Makers on Gift Registries for College-Bound

Today's students must be so confused about Barack Obama's rusty car and Mitt Romney's sawhorse desk.

My friend Blake has been teaching in Tokyo for the past 19 years, coming back to the U.S. on most of his academic breaks. This past weekend, he helped us move most of the big stuff into my oldest daughter’s rental home for the upcoming academic year. When it was all done except for building the above-the-toilet storage rack, he said, “How come kids work less than we did but have so much more?”

I’ve grown used to what college students have. My daughter Allison’s first on-campus apartment had panoramic views of the city, a bathroom so big you could throw a dance party in it, and a gym in the building—even though the $42 million Drexel Recreation Center is less than two blocks away. I remember thinking, if this is how you live as a college sophomore, where do you go from here?

This year Allison is living with five girls, several of whom who have TVs in their rooms. There is also a TV in the basement party room, as well as in the formal living room. What? Yes, they have a formal living room and a finished basement, complete with another bedroom, another full bathroom, and a washer/dryer. The party area is still big enough for a sofa, loveseat, gaming table, bar, and four-seater high-top table with chairs. Their newly renovated five-bedroom, three-bathroom home has a front porch and all-new kitchen appliances too. I am practically describing the house she rented last year. I am also practically describing all of her friends’ rentals as well. Yes, they are in University City, but still.

My husband and I had always sworn that even if we became millionaires, we would make our kids get part-time jobs, budget their own money, appreciate what they had, understand the value of a dollar. The millionaire part didn’t happen, so all of those plans were irrelevant; I could just do the “get a job” part.

If you can’t keep up with the Joneses for your child, consider throwing a “trunk party” and inviting the Joneses to help. Apparently growing in popularity, these are bon voyage parties thrown by parents for their college-bound child (a separate shindig from the graduation party). There’s a nod to quaintness in the name—anything one might take to college should fit in a trunk. The kind people at Bed Bath & Beyond even have a gift registry designed for the college-bound, though it’s a good thing the trunk is just a metaphor or the massaging pillow (on the suggested gift list) would never fit. The Container Store will also help you create a gift registry, and both stores even will allow you to have the goods picked up at the store nearest your student’s university.

According to the National Retail Foundation, combined K-12 and college spending will reach $83.8 billion this year, serving as the second-biggest consumer spending event for retailers behind the winter holidays. I find this hard to believe when colleges across the country suggest assigned roommates become Facebook friends so that they don’t both bring microwaves or milkshake makers.

If you cannot afford to even throw the trunk party (there are invitations, decorations, and cakes), you can always send your child to schools that make a trip to Target part of orientation week. Joining 69 colleges and universities throughout the country, both Rutgers and Temple University sent kids to area Targets for special late-night events, with music, prizes, refreshments, and, oh yeah—shopping.