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Should You Use a Care Package Service for Your College Freshman?

By Mir Kamin

Got tweens/teens? We’re trying a new advice column here at Alpha Mom to address your questions for the older-kid crowd. We hope you enjoy!


F writes:

This one isn’t exactly a parenting question. I hope that’s okay! Here it is: I know you’re about to send your daughter off to college, and ours is about to leave, as well. We are suddenly being inundated with “to the parents of” mail offering everything from “buy this package and have everything she needs for the dorm room waiting there for her on move-in day” to “give us all your money and have regular goodie boxes sent throughout the year.” I get it, I guess—if companies can capitalize on it, they will—but I’m curious to know how you feel about these care package services. My gut is telling me it’s a rip-off, but I don’t want my kid to be the only one not getting them, you know? I’d love to hear your take on it.

Picture me rubbing my hands together with barely-concealed glee. I was hoping someone would ask about this.

I think your gut reaction is about in-line with my own: these companies are looking to make money, obviously, and what better way to get folks who’ve just plunked down tens of thousands of dollars to open their wallets again than to suggest that everyone else will be doing this and your child will be sad and lonely and assume you don’t love them if you don’t get on board?

On the other hand, not everyone loves to shop the way I love to shop. So I cut these companies some slack because there is a grateful market for their services, for sure.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

Pros of using a care package service

  • One and done, if you like. That is, you can pay a sum now and know that your darling offspring will receive regular deliveries of goodies throughout the year. It’s convenient if you’re averse to shopping and/or forgetful.
  • As you’ve surmised, when other kids are receiving their packages, your kid will be, too! No worries about them feeling left out.
  • These companies get bulk shipping discounts, so depending on what’s being sent, of course, it’s unlikely you could send an identical package for the same cost, even if only because your shipping cost would be a lot higher.

Cons of using a care package service

  • Although the shipping would represent a savings over assembling such a box at home, yourself, the items inside are likely more than you’d pay on your own, plus if you have Amazon Prime and were okay with shipping items separately (rather than in a pretty box altogether) you could probably hit some product discounts and get free shipping.
  • If you have a picky eater or some sort of dietary restriction, you may be out of luck with a pre-packaged service. My daughter is a vegetarian but also allergic to peanuts, and according to the brochure we got, the one “vegetarian box” they offer (all of the others have beef jerky in them for some reason) is pretty peanut-heavy. That’s a non-starter for us, obviously. Another example: I didn’t see a single box that wasn’t candy-heavy, and I know one of my daughter’s roommates doesn’t eat refined sugar. I’m guessing her folks won’t be buying these boxes, either. But even without one of these extreme issues, what if your kid has specific preferences?
  • Call me crazy or old-fashioned (or both; I don’t mind), but I feel like a care package is supposed to represent care. To me, care comes with some intentionality, a personalized note, and thought put into what the recipient will truly enjoy. I’m not sure a service like this can really deliver on those points. (And that’s not even getting into the issue that I’m not sure it’s even a care package if there isn’t something home-baked in there!)

So when is a care package service a good idea?

If you have more money than time, and if your kid isn’t terribly picky and/or sentimental, these services are a nice way to make sure your student gets some goodies now and then. And honestly, I mean that. No shame! Convenience isn’t a sin, and if this option works for your family, more power to you all.

But if it doesn’t feel right for you, what can you do instead?

Everyone has their own preferences and spending limits and whatnot, of course. I can’t tell anyone what’s going to work for them, but I can share my own philosophy and you can take or leave from that as you see fit.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a shop ahead and get the best deals sort from wayyyyy back. It’s possible I’ve accumulated… a few things… which I will later be sending along to my college student. Not only was I able to score deals because of my willingness to shop on my own, I know that anything I send at this point is something she definitely likes, because I picked it myself. Again, this requires some thought and planning, obviously, as well as someplace to store bought-ahead items, and it’s not for everyone. I get that. But I also have Amazon Prime and it will be easy enough to send something direct to the dorm if I spot a bargain during the school year, if I want to.

In addition, before I threw away the flyer from the fancy care package place, I made sure to check the dates of their deliveries and put them on my calendar. If “everyone else is getting a package and she’ll feel left out” is truly a concern, I’m ready—I can mail something on my own to coincide with the barrage of company care packages arriving then. I would definitely recommend doing that if you’re not going to use the service, because it’s nice to know when a package will be well-timed, anyway.

One last thing—I don’t know where your daughter is going to school or how far she’ll be from home, but I personally believe care packages (prepackaged or not) are a lot more important for our kids who are venturing far and not getting home much (or at all). My own kiddo is going to be under two hours away and she’ll have a car. The reality for us is that she’s likely to come home every few weeks, and while getting mail is fun and all, it’ll be a lot easier for me to slip a big bag of cookies in her duffel each time she does than to worry about mailing things. That’s us, though. If your daughter is going farther, adjust accordingly.

The bottom line is that there’s no right one-size-fits-all answer. You know what will work for you and your child, I’m sure. Best of luck with the upcoming launch!

More College Dorm Advice from Alpha Mom:

  1. Laundry Cheat Sheet for Your College Bound Graduate
  2. The Essential College Dorm First Aid Kit Explained 
  3. Gearing Up for College: College Dining Meal Plan Options 

Photo source: Depositphotos/Zelfit

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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