Normally, back to school shopping is a right-of-passage for parents and kids alike. The little ones get to pick out folders, crayons, and backpacks, while you get to fantasize about shuffling them out the door and enjoying five minutes of silence.
Of course, this year back to school shopping—and everything about returning to school—is different. Kids who are attending school in-person are often asked to bring as little as possible to school to prevent the transmission of coronavirus. They’re also adding never-before-needed items like hand sanitizer, masks, mask lanyards, and face shields to their shopping list, which frankly is much less exciting than craft supplies and cool clothes. Some schools are even telling students to buy fanny packs to hold their spare masks and hand sanitizer.
For families opting for remote schooling or homeschooling, back-to-school shopping involves everything you need to make learning possible at home. While many schools are providing laptops (particularly for older kids), parents are spending on other expenses like headphones, desks, and whiteboards.
All of the adjustment comes with a big price tag. The National Retail Federation estimates that families will spend $790 on back to school shopping, about $100 more than last year. Although kids might not be out of the house as much, more than 90% of parents still plan to buy clothes and shoes as part of their back-to-school shopping.
“Most parents don’t know whether their children will be sitting in a classroom or in front of a computer in the dining room, or a combination of the two,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “But they do know the value of an education and are navigating uncertainty and unknowns so that students are prepared.”
However, for parents without the financial means to spend hundreds of dollars on back-to-school shopping, this can be stressful. While some school districts are providing essential items like masks to students, students from lower socio-economic households often have fewer tools at their disposal to make this unusual school year more comfortable.
Lori Lyn, a second grade teacher in Texas, told CNN that every student should have their own laptop—not just a tablet. That’s a huge expense, but parents should work with the school to see what resources are available, since having a laptop will make remote learning easier for everyone, she said.
“We don’t want them to be sharing with parents or amongst each other. As difficult as it might be for some families to manage, if you’re a family with four kids, it’s crucial that each kid has their own device,” she said.
Diane Perry, a Florida mom of a rising fourth-grader, told The Washington Post that she’s trying to limit back to school shopping until she figures out what this school year will look like, and until she’s on better financial footing.
“This year, I don’t know what she’s going to need, or when. And I’m still trying to figure out how to pay rent and buy groceries,” said Perry, who has been furloughed since March.
Sayuri Shimada, a California teacher and mom of two, is tweaking her back-to-school shopping list to the pandemic. Rather than all new clothes, she’s focused on shirts for herself and her boys, who will be attending class online while Shimada teaches remotely. She invested in a new webcam and a selfie-stick so that she can record videos for her students while on the go.
“It’s a completely different back-to-school season,” she said.