Back-to-school shopping is typically predictable, if pricey. You get your kids new school supplies, new backpacks and perhaps even a couple new back-to-school outfits.
Unfortunately, 2020 is not a typical year. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, most schools are using “distance learning” in addition to or instead of in-person learning. That means preparing your children for school will be very different—and back-to-school shopping will be too.
If this stresses you out, you’re not alone. Millions of parents are trying to adjust to this new normal.
Fortunately, you don’t have to muddle through this uncharted territory on your own. There are things you can do to get your child ready to learn remotely, and if you’re clever, you can even save a few dollars in the process.
1. See What You Already Have
Before you start shopping for new school supplies, look around and try to figure out what supplies you already have. Do a sweep of your house, gather up all your school and office supplies, and put them in a central location. Then look at your children's list of school supplies and start checking off the items you already own.
You'll also want to do this with your children's clothes. Go through each child's closet and see what clothes your children has outgrown, what clothes are worn out and which clothes are still good.
Doing this will save you from spending money on back-to-school supplies you already own. It will also give you a clearer picture of what you actually need to buy--and it will stop you from spending money on the back-to-school supplies you already own.
2. Make a Budget
Now that you know what you need to buy, budget out your money. Estimate what you'll be able to spend on school supplies and new clothes, then see how you can fit it into your household budget. You may need to cut back on some other categories in order to achieve this.
If you're on a tight budget, you'll want to start this at least a month in advance if you can. You can significantly lessen the financial impact of back-to-school shopping if you can spread your expenses out over two, even three months.
3. Check Dollar Stores and Thrift Stores
Don't start your back-to-school shopping at the big-box retail stores. Instead, visit your local dollar store first. Most of the time, they'll have school and office supplies available for less than what traditional retailers charge.
Thrift stores such as Goodwill and Savers also offer some fantastic deals on school supplies. What they're most known for, though, are their low-priced second-hand clothes.
It's worth pointing out that "second-hand" doesn't mean "worn-out" or "damaged." In fact, there are several web forums filled with people posting about the treasures they discovered at a gift shop, like clothing with brand names like Yves Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein or Lucky Brand.
4. Follow Stores Online for Sales Information
In the Internet Age, many stores like to announce their deals online. You can follow retailers from Amazon to Kohl's online, and you can even follow some general coupon sites such as Coupons.com or RetailMeNot to discover additional sales.
5. Check Your Internet Connection
If you, your significant other, and your child are all going to be working from home, you’ll need to make sure you have an Internet connection that is not only stable, but is capable of handling the increased traffic. Check with your Internet Service Provider to see what kind of traffic it can handle, as well as whether or not your service has a data cap.
You’ll also want to figure out if your wireless router can handle multiple users. Read reviews of your current router to make sure it can handle the strain of multiple users. If it can’t, you might want to invest in a router that can.
If you do need to upgrade your Internet service, be sure to research the ISPs in your area and see what deals they’re offering. You can also call up your ISP and renegotiate your bill with them. While many people might feel awkward about this, renegotiating your bill will often give you better terms.
6. Optimize Your Child’s Learning Space
While many children are familiar with homework, this might be the first time that they’ve had to work for extended periods on their own. You can help make this transition easier for them by making sure they have a good learning space set up.
You’ll want to talk with your children first. Find out what items would be most helpful to them and where they would like to set up their learning space. Then make a list of the items you’ll need to optimize their learning space. These might include:
- New desk
- Bulletin Board
- Desk Calendar
- Wire inbox
- Pencil holder
- Desktop organizer
You can save money on the smaller items the same way you would other school supplies—see what you already have, check out dollar stores and second hand stores for bargains, and see what your local big box stores have on sale.
If you need to get larger items, check out sites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist to find used furniture for cheap. Just be sure to practice social distancing and wash down your new furniture with some sanitizer or soap and water once you get it back to your home.
Plan Your Back-to-School Shopping With First Alliance Credit Union
School shopping can be a chore, and with COVID-19 in full force, you’ll also need to consider buying some additional items in order to make sure your children have an easier time learning at home. However, if you make a plan, figure out what you need beforehand and keep an eye out for deals, you’ll be able to keep your back-to-school shopping costs down significantly.
You can also keep your back-to-school shopping costs down when you become a First Alliance Credit Union member. In addition to the traditional savings accounts, you can also put your money in a club account, where the money will only become available to you at a certain date--like a few weeks before school begins. You can also put your money in a Certificate of Deposit (CD) to earn more interest on the money while you're putting it aside for school supplies.
Want more information about how to save for seasonal expenses like back to school shopping? Listen to this episode of our Good Money Moves podcast that talks about setting financial goals.