Back-to-School Shopping Tips for Home Schooling and At-Home Learning

The back-to-school shopping season is looking very different this year for both parents and retailers. As families brace themselves for several months of distance learning, parents are expected to spend more in different categories compared to last year.

According to the 2020 Back-to-School Survey from Deloitte, 51% of parents will spend more on internet-based learning resources, such as virtual tutors, subscriptions and e-learning platforms, as well as online classes. The survey also found that families are expected to dish out nearly $400 on average for computers and hardware, up 38% from last year, and an additional $316 on electronic gadgets and digital subscriptions.

No to mention that retailers throughout the country are shuttering doors of poorly performing store locations as they struggle to make up for lost sales. This will impact the number of sales offered during this back-to-school season.

“Struggling retailers and brands are determining they can’t afford to discount like they’ve done in previous years,” says Joanie Demer, co-founder of The Krazy Coupon Lady, a deal and coupon site.

[Read: Best Deals and Products for Back-to-School 2020.]

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about where to shop and how to save, review these expert-backed tips.

— Reassess your budget.

— Run an inventory check.

— Jump on loss leaders.

— Swap supplies and clothing.

— Look for free school supplies and services.

— Tap into credit card rewards.

— Look for refurbished gadgets.

— Borrow or lease furniture and supplies.

Reassess Your Budget

If you’ve experienced any financial setbacks as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak or you’re expecting to take on new expenses for virtual learning needs, your school supply budget may be different than last year. Take a moment to review your expenses and set a budget so you know how much you can afford to spend on supplies. Keep in mind that not all the items on your kid’s school supply list are necessary, including name-brand goods.

“Ask your teachers exactly what supplies are needed for the year and build your budget out from there,” says Rachel Cruze, author, financial expert and host of the Rachel Cruze Show, who points out that your kids don’t need the fanciest version of anything. “The cheaper laptop will get the job done just as well as the fancy one,” she says.

Run an Inventory Check

Chances are, your kids have supplies left over from last school year that can get the job done this school season. “Before you go out and buy new stuff, take a quick inventory check of items you already have at home that will work,” Cruze advises, noting that you can reuse pens and pencils and make do with half-filled notebooks. You can even collect scattered crayons or markers to make a set. Spend some time looking through your children’s bedrooms, playroom and even your office or kitchen to see what items will work.

Jump on Loss Leaders

Many office supply stores and big-box retailers are willing to take a loss by offering deeply discounted prices on supply basics like pencils and folders, often referred to as loss leaders, with the goal of getting you into the store so they can entice you to buy pricier goods. Laura Daily, executive editor of personal finance site Living On The Cheap, says it’s worthwhile to take advantage of these deals as long as you shop intently. “Buy the loss leader only, then leave the store so you aren’t tempted to buy more expensive items,” she says.

Know when and where to find the best deals by reviewing store circulars periodically and shopping early, Daily says. “Most sales start on Sunday morning, but many stores post previews online by late Friday. Review sale flyers and note the items at a deep discount, and head out as early as possible on Sunday to avoid crowds,” she adds.

Swap Supplies and Clothing

Instead of selling items you no longer need or use, consider setting up a swap of gently used clothing, backpacks and other school supplies with other families in your neighborhood or through your child’s school. Even if you don’t end up finding something for your own child, you could really help a family that is struggling financially.

In addition to swap groups on social media sites like Facebook, you can trade in children’s outgrown clothing for larger sizes through trade-and-swap sites such as The Swoondle Society.

[See: Best Buy and Sell Apps for Used Stuff.]

Look for Free School Supplies and Services

There are a variety of programs in different states for free and discounted resources for the school year, says Mark Reyes, certified financial planner and founder of Albert, a money management tool. He points out that in California, Google donated 4,000 Chromebooks to students and free Wi-Fi to 100,000 rural households at the start of the pandemic, while Boston Public Schools is currently providing free Chromebooks to students who don’t have consistent access to computers. To find resources near you, check, where you can find free and low-cost Wi-Fi and computer resources based on your ZIP code, income level and the number of K-12 or college students in your household.

Meanwhile, Kumiko Love, accredited financial counselor and founder of The Budget Mom, a personal finance blog, says parents can find additional free resources online. For example, the Khan Academy is a nonprofit that provides free online K-12 education courses, Audible offers free audiobooks for kids and Duolingo has a free foreign language learning app. Other organizations to contact for free supplies include local United Way chapters, Volunteers of America and the Back-to-School Brigade for military families. “Otherwise, call your school district or local charities to inquire about free supplies and other support,” Daily says.

Don’t forget: Your library is also a great resource for access to free Wi-Fi, e-books, documentaries, online tutoring and more.

Tap Into Credit Card Rewards

Credit cards get a bad rap, but they can be helpful if used wisely. If you’re using a card that offers rewards like cash back, for instance, review your online account to see if you can get extra money back for buying from a certain store and opt in to qualify for the bonus rewards. Then, plan your school shopping accordingly to increase your earnings. Just make sure to pay off the balance in full so you don’t rack up interest charges.

You can even get special rewards for supporting small businesses, says Trae Bodge, smart shopping expert at, a personal finance site. For example, American Express is giving eligible and enrolled U.S. cardmembers $5 back after they spend $10 or more at an eligible U.S. small merchant when they shop online, curbside or in-store up to 10 times through Sept. 20, 2020. You have to enroll by Aug. 23 at

Look for Refurbished Gadgets

Many computer retailers like Best Buy, Dell and eBay offer refurbished and open box electronics for a fraction of regular retail prices, says Jacqueline Gilchrist, founder of Mom Money Map, a personal finance blog. “This is the best way to get a high-end computer for 30% off that still comes with a warranty,” she says.

Otherwise, look for a tech repair shop in your area, Daily advises. “Many computer repair shops buy up older laptops in bulk from municipalities and school districts, then clean them up for resale at a fraction of the price,” she says.

[Read: How to Get the Best Prices on Everything, Every Time You Shop.]

Borrow or Lease Furniture and Supplies

Creating a special learning space for your kids can really help put them in the learning zone, but buying new furniture doesn’t make sense if kids will eventually return to the classroom. In addition to looking for secondhand options, Demer suggests renting items from local businesses. “Call companies in your area who have closed their offices to ask about borrowing or leasing desks, chairs, monitors and other at-home supplies,” she says.

More from U.S. News

35 Ways to Save Money

10 Smart Ways to Spend $1,000

Bills You Don’t Have to Pay During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Back-to-School Shopping Tips for Home Schooling and At-Home Learning originally appeared on

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up