The list of stuff you’re told to buy when sending your kid off to college is long and expensive, and some of it is unnecessary. Focusing on the basics for the student living in a tiny dorm room or that first apartment will save you money and make packing easier. Here's a list of things to buy and what to skip, from the pros at Consumer Reports who've been down this road.

Living in a dorm room is like living on a boat. Think small, think what your child needs to survive. So check the university’s website and find out whether the room has a desk, chair, and lamp. Learn if students have access to a communal microwave and refrigerator, and what items are prohibited, such as halogen lamps and space heaters.

For a student sharing an apartment off campus, scour the property’s website to see what the apartment comes with. Save by divvying up the essentials with roommates, so that one buys the coffeemaker, another buys a microwave. And keep this in mind: The more you buy now, the more you will have to lug back home at the end of the school year.

The Essentials

Bath towels. Expensive towels and towels that look great for many years may be wasted on the young. With coupon in hand, choose thicker-but-affordable towels for their absorbency. If your child uses products for treating acne, buy inexpensive white towels. The benzoyl peroxide in these creams and gels bleaches color towels, leaving orange blotches. Another option is towels that resist bleaching, such as the Real Simple Bath Towel that we tested. But bleach-resistant towels are not cheap.

Sheets. For dorm living, check the size of the bed online. Most dorm beds are five inches longer than the standard twin, so regular twin sheets won’t fit. You’ll need XL twin sheets, and a mattress cover too, along with a comforter or blankets that are long enough. Sheets that are 100 percent cotton are the most comfortable and your best choice. Cotton-poly blends work well, but skip microfiber as they aren’t as breathable as other fabrics and can make you feel hot while sleeping. Jersey sheets can stretch out after just a few washings. Get out your coupons and look online for sales.

Coffee maker. For off-campus living, take a look at the $40 Black+Decker CM4000S drip coffee maker. It holds 12 cups and was impressive at brewing and easy to use. Even better is the $100 Cuisinart Perfec Temp DCC-2800. Pod coffee makers let you brew coffee right into your travel mug without measuring coffee or cleaning filters, but cost more than drip models. You’ll see dozens in our coffee maker Ratings.

Microwave. The dorm may offer access to a communal microwave, or not allow them, and the apartment may already have one. So check. We buy and test midsized and large countertop microwaves, which are too big for a dorm room. A midsized may work in an apartment if there’s enough counter space. Take a look at the top-rated LG LCS1112ST, $140, the Avanti MO1250TW, $130, and the Kenmore 73114, $105.

Wait and See

Mini-fridge. A waste for some, others put this in the essential category for a dorm room even though it takes up space. If there isn’t a communal refrigerator, check the school’s policy—some only allow rentals. Your child could split the cost of a rental with a roommate or friends nearby, and consider waiting a few weeks into the school year to see if a fridge is necessary. If so, order online. Among the compact cube models we tested, the $100 Danby DCR059BLE was best, scoring excellent for keeping food cold and with very good freezer performance. It was quiet too, but uses almost as much energy as a full-size refrigerator. See the compact refrigerator Ratings for more options.

Humidifier. If your child complains that the dorm room or apartment bedroom gets hot and dry in winter, order a small humidifier online and have it shipped. The $30 Safety 1st Ultrasonic 360 was excellent overall and quiet. It shuts off automatically when empty. But your student has to clean it after every use to keep bacteria from building up.

What to Skip

Iron. There’s no time to iron, and you care more about the wrinkled, rumpled look than they do. For the student who does seem to care, buy no-iron clothes and pack a spray bottle of Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus. It did the trick in our tests.

Expensive bedding and decorative pillows. The extra pillows eat up valuable space. Fancy sheets and comforters may get ruined when washed or in a number of other ways.

Extra set of sheets. Buying them assumes the sheets are changed regularly. From our experience, college students are busy and change sheets when they finally do laundry, then put the sheets right back on the bed.

Alarm clock. Essential to you, but a relic. Your college student probably has a cell phone and can set the alarm on it.