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Back-to-School Shopping Tips During COVID-19

Many parents spent much of the summer of 2020 wondering what school would look like for their kids this fall. As the beginning of the school year approaches, many states have unveiled plans for how kids in their state will attend school, but uncertainty still remains about what might happen if there are widespread shutdowns like we saw earlier in the year. About the only thing we know for sure is that this school year will be unlike any most of us have previously experienced.

But even amidst the chaos, schools will provide educational instruction for students this academic year, and students will need school supplies. In fact, parents with students in elementary, middle, and high school plan to spend an average of $789.49 on school supplies this year, compared to $696.70 last year, according to the National Retail Federation. And, overall, school supply spending is expected to increase by $7.7 billion over last year.

Whether your school district has opted for in-person learning, a fully remote model, or a hybrid approach, here are some back-to-school supplies you may want to consider. But before you buy anything, check your local school district’s supply list to make sure you don’t acquire things you really don’t need.



Many school districts are opting for remote learning or a hybrid approach that includes a combination of in-person and remote instruction, which means the need for additional technology is a reality many parents face.

If you’re still working from home, sharing your laptop with your elementary-schooler probably isn’t an option. That means tablets and laptops may be on your school supply list for the first time. But before you shell out money for these big-ticket items, make sure any device you’re considering purchasing meets the technical requirements for your school’s remote-learning program.

If you have more than one child, or plan to work while they’re attending class online, you may also want to invest in some decent headphones so you don’t disturb each other.

Other items you may want to consider include a faster internet connection, a printer and, if your printer doesn’t have scanning capability, perhaps even a scanner.


Traditional School Supplies

Regardless of how your school district decides to “send” kids back to school, you’ll probably need some traditional school supplies such as pencils, composition books, spiral notebooks, crayons, markers, etc. If your child is going into a classroom, your school probably has a list of items they want you to purchase. If not, you’ll probably have a bit more flexibility.

Every year students get a list of supplies they’re supposed to buy. And, every year, they typically come home with a stack of unused or partially used supplies they can’t use the following year because their new teacher wants a different color or style folder/notebook/composition book, etc. If your kids aren’t going into a classroom, try to use supplies you already have around the house and save yourself some money.


Clothing & Shoes

Unless your child has outgrown everything they own, start with what you already have and fill in the gaps. If your child isn’t attending school full-time in the fall, this might be an area where you can afford to skimp a little. After all, do your kids really need to wear the latest fashions just to sit in front of a computer screen all day? Chances are they’ll want to be comfortable for a long day of remote learning and may end up wearing shorts and their favorite hoodie most of the time—at least younger children who aren’t yet interested in dressing to impress their classmates.


At-Home Learning Spaces

This doesn’t have to be elaborate, but if your kids are attending school fully or partially online, it may help to have a dedicated learning space in your home. You may be able to repurpose tables, desks, and chairs you already have to create a learning environment, or you may decide to purchase a few items to make the space a more inviting place for your child to learn.


Pandemic-Related Supplies

Masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes may be supplies you’ve never seen on any of your previous back-to-school supply lists, but if your kids are headed back to the classroom, they’re likely to be a requirement. If you want your kids to skip the water fountain (or your school has turned them off altogether) to minimize exposure to germs, you may want to send them to school with a bottle of water, so bottled water may be on your list. Or, to avoid adding to plastic waste, consider purchasing them a nice reusable water bottle that’s large enough to get them through the day.


Money-Saving Tips

No matter what school looks like for your child this fall, no parent wants to spend more than they need to on supplies. Here are a few tips to help you stretch your budget.

  • Take advantage of sales and tax-free shopping. Make a list of all the things your child needs and buy them when they’re on sale or when, if your state offers them, tax-free shopping days are in effect.
  • Use a cash back rewards credit card. If you have a cash back rewards credit card, and school supplies are an eligible purchase that earns you cash back rewards, using that credit card instead of cash to purchase school supplies should save you some money. Say, for example, you have a two-percent cash back rewards credit card and you spend the $789 average on school supplies this year. You would save $15.78 (2% of $789) if you used that credit card instead of cash, assuming you don’t incur any finance charges or other credit card fees for those purchases.
  • Use coupons. Search for coupons you can use on items you need to buy. Combine them with sales to save even more.
  • Check online vs. store prices. Prices may be lower online than they are in the store. Or, they may be lower in the store. Be sure to compare online and in-store prices before you buy.
  • Buy in bulk. Many supplies, such as pens, pencils, glue sticks, and crayons, need to be replenished throughout the school year. Buy them in bulk at the beginning of the year and you’ll have what you need for the entire school year.
  • Do your homework. If you plan on buying big-ticket items such as laptops or desks, research your options to ensure you get the best possible deal. And, again, consider using a cash back rewards credit card instead of cash to make the purchase.

Like so many things we experienced in 2020, this school year is unlikely to be one you’ll forget anytime soon. But with a little planning, a dash of creativity, and a good sense of humor, you should be able to ensure that your kids have what they need to start school year right this fall.


Looking for a cash back rewards credit card to make your back-to-school purchases? See if you Pre-Qualify for a Credit One Bank credit card. It takes less than a minute and won’t harm your credit score!

About the author:

Jennifer Brozic

Jennifer Brozic began her writing career at seven years old, when she scribed the epic tale of her kite-flying (and skyward-looking) uncle crossing paths with a deep hole in a sandy beach. After earning a degree in journalism, Jen worked in the insurance and financial services industries before earning a master’s degree in communication management. She left the nine-to-five corporate world in 2010 and has been freelance writing ever since. Her areas of expertise include insurance, financial planning & budgeting, and building credit.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified tax advisor, attorney or financial advisor. Readers should consult with their own tax advisor, attorney or financial advisor with regard to their personal situations.