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Back-to-school shopping for uncertain times

Whether your kids are doing school in person, online or a mix of both, no doubt this is an unusual year to think about back-to-school shopping and what your students most need to be successful this upcoming school year.

Determine a budget

Before you get started, make sure you determine your budget. Experts predict that families will spend more this year than years past, mostly due to the need to invest in new tech products and/or home classroom furniture, but it’s still possible to prepare your kids for a successful 2020-2021 school year without over-extending your finances.

Here are some tips on what to look for, in a budget-friendly way.

Buy what you think you’ll need now

One thing that’s certain is that there is a lot of uncertainty about what this school year will look like, making many families hesitant to spend money yet on anything for back-to-school. The challenge with that is that once you do have a better idea of what you need, you may be facing shortages and increased prices due to a spike in demand.

To ensure you’re able to get what you need at regular prices, or ideally sale prices, consider investing in the basics that you can be relatively certain you need – making sure your kids have the latest fashion trends will take a back seat to the basics like shoes, jeans and underwear, which your kids generally need no matter where they are doing school. Shop the sales and stock up on the basics while saving money you might normally spend on more expensive trendy items for electronics.

Adapt your spending to set your kids up for success

You may not be required to buy boxes of tissue for your kids’ classrooms or extra gym clothes for physical education classes if your kids will start out distance learning, but you’ll most likely need to reallocate those dollars toward setting up a space for remote learning at some point this school year. Parents with multiple children may need to get creative with making space for different Zoom classes happening at the same time, but be thoughtful of what you bring into your home, knowing that in the grand scheme of things, this is a temporary situation. 

Shop your neighborhood through online marketplaces for furniture that can be cheaply repurposed as desks and consider investing in a utility cart or two for supplies so that you can quickly tuck your remote classroom away at the end of the day – having one space for all your supplies can help you and your kids more efficiently manage hybrid models of education as well. And when we eventually get back to full-time in-person school, you may be able to repurpose these purchases for other household uses.

Start looking for electronics now

If you haven’t already, you’ll probably need to invest in some electronics to facilitate online learning. Chances are that you’ll need a tablet and headphones at some point. If not for remote learning, as a back-up way to entertain yourself or family members who want to watch something or play a game that the rest of the family isn’t interested in.

Saving money on Covid-19 specific gear

If your kids will be doing any type of in-person learning, they’ll still need a backpack, which you’ll want to make sure has extra space for things like extra masks, hand sanitizer, wipes, etc. Look for sales or shop consignment shops for gently used options. A fun lunch box is one way your child can express individuality, even if they will be eating lunch at their desk. To save money on packed lunches, invest in reusable single-serving containers so you can buy bulk snacks and divvy them up yourself, which is both good for your wallet and the environment.

Take advantage of tax-free shopping days if possible

Most states offer a sales-tax free period for back-to-school shopping, so if you can time your shopping to those dates, you can expect retailers to also be offering specials to sweeten the savings deals. Just be mindful of only spending on what you know your students really need to be successful, while avoiding the temptation to stock up on supplies that aren’t essential.

Don’t lose the teachable moments

Like most times we go shopping for or with our kids, this is a fabulous time to pass along some lessons about budgeting and making trade-offs. Hopefully you’ve included some savings each month throughout the year to dedicate toward back-to-school spending, but if you haven’t, this year is as good a year as ever to start. Involve your child in decisions, such as making tough choices between why you are buying one item over another, or even having them do their own research into purchases if they are savvy enough.

One idea would be to challenge your device-happy pre-teen to find the best deal on any necessary furniture or equipment you need to set them up for school at home. You may even learn something from their creativity!

Keep the big picture in mind

With the possibility that your kids may be doing home-based learning at some point in the coming school year, it can be tempting to go all-in on setting up a state-of-the-art learning space. Just remember, in the bigger picture, that space will eventually be unnecessary once all kids are able to go back to in-person school full-time. As you’re deciding what to buy this back-to-school season, keep in mind whether you’ll be able to use the item in all scenarios and if not, whether it’s absolutely essential to success this schoolyear.