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Budgeting For the 2021 Back-to-School Season

Jul 26, 2021

The School District of Philadelphia, among other districts, is currently planning to welcome all students back to school for five days of in-person learning for the 2021-2022 academic year, so you'll likely need to restock your child's school supplies so they can use their own pens, pencils, etc. rather than sharing as they may have previously. And even though students will be fully in-person, this year's back-to-school shopping still might look a little different than years' past.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind while budgeting for this year's cost-effective back-to-school shop:

  • Shop smarter, not harder
    Unfortunately, some stores may take advantage of how many parents will need supplies after losing out on back-to-school business for the last year, so be smart about where, when, and how you shop. If you wait to do one big haul the week before school starts as you may have in the past, you run the risk of shopping when prices are at their highest and stores are at their most crowded. Consider doing one big haul about a month ahead of time, or starting now with smaller-scale hauls.
  • Buy in bulk
    Typically, the time to start shopping for back to school is when the school supply lists are sent home, but there are some things you already know you'll need and can therefore buy in bulk to save some money, such as:
    • Masks: There is a chance that your child will need to wear masks to school, so be sure you purchase enough reusable masks to last the school year just to be safe (or at least the first quarter). Since you know you'll need these ahead of time, you have a few options.

      If you just bought new masks for the family, set some fresh masks aside for the first day of school so they don't get ruined or lost before then. Or, you can purchase the new masks now, and stash them somewhere you'll remember them (you may want to jot it down in a note on your phone so you don't forget). A third option is to calculate how many masks your child could potentially need for approximately 1-2 weeks (considering how frequently you may wash them in between uses) and set the amount of money aside for closer to the official first day of school.

      To avoid any misplacement or confusion with other students' masks, purchase masks that will be easily identifiable—perhaps an initial or your child's favorite TV/movie character, anything immediately recognizable.
    • Sanitizer and sanitation wipes: The school will most likely do their own restock of sanitation products, but it's important your child has their own that they can keep handy should they want to sanitize on the go. Consider purchasing one small bottle of sanitizer and attaching it to your child's backpack. This way, they'll have it wherever they go, and you can refill it at home instead of buying new bottles if they're empty or have been misplaced.
    • Pencils, crayons, markers, paper, and other traditional supplies: Though these seem like a no-brainer, ask your child's teacher if these are necessary, or if they will continue to leverage digital tools such as tablets—you may not even need to purchase these!

      If you do need to purchase them, buy them in bulk for cheap now at your local dollar store or another low-cost store so that you're not scrambling in the crowded stores the week before school.
  • Shop secondhand
    Whether your child outgrew their clothes over the past year or just needs a wardrobe refresh to ease back into the day-to-day routine of in-person schooling, save some money by shopping secondhand. Sweep your local thrift stores and consignment shops, or reach out to friends and family members for any hand-me-downs. You can also join neighborhood or school Facebook groups to get hand-me-down uniforms from neighbors or other classmates—this is also a great way to stay up to date on all of the latest information.
  • Clip coupons
    The value of saving money—even if just a few dollars—through coupons is undeniable, so start saving now. Anytime you see a coupon for any back-to-school essential, clip it, purchase the item before the coupon expires, and stash it for the first day of school. But be sure to still keep track of how much you're spending, as purchases can add up over time. And keep an eye out for stores that are willing to price match items on your list—this can be a real money saver if you're strategic about it.

Heading back to school full-time will likely be overwhelming, as it's been more than a year since students have had a "normal" school experience. But with the right supplies (purchased at the right price), your child will be ready to tackle the new school year head-on.

Erin Elis 
Erin Ellis
Accredited Financial Counselor ®
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