This back-to-school season is like no other for many reasons. And that makes preparing for it especially challenging.
As of a recent tally, a little more than half of U.S. elementary and high school students will attend school only virtually this fall, although changes are announced daily. As a result, families have delayed many traditional back-to-school purchases.
"Forget lunchboxes and backpacks — now it's all about trying to create a good space in your home for your kids to learn remotely," said Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree.
However, "it makes things a little pricier, and the last thing we all need in 2020 is some more financial uncertainty," he added.
To that point, 63% of parents and college students said they plan to spend more on furniture and home goods and 59% will increase their spending on remote learning and tech, according to a study by PayPal of 600 college students and 1,200 K-12 parents in July.
Altogether, parents are expected to shell out $529, on average, per student, according to a separate back-to-school survey by Deloitte.
As demand for remote-learning equipment skyrockets, spending on technology jumped 28%, Deloitte found, offsetting any declines in new clothes and standard school supplies. Deloitte polled 1,200 parents of school-aged children in early June.
For households under financial strain due to the economic impact of Covid-19, expensive tech upgrades come at a steep cost — if you can even get them.
Reports of laptop shortages due to high demand and supply chain disruptions — particularly for popular Chromebooks — are forcing some parents to scramble for supplies at the last minute. (Right now, there are far more Chromebooks being sold to schools than other kinds of computers.)
But even at the eleventh hour, there are still many good options available, and at a discount.
"Labor Day will be prime supply-shopping time," said Andrea Woroch, a money-saving expert based in Bakersfield, California.
Some of Woroch's favorite deals include $300 off the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3, now $899.99, down from $1,199.99 at Microsoft.com; an HP Laptop marked down to $549.99 from $789.99 at HP.com; or a refurbished Dell Latitude 3450 14-inch Notebook for $289.99 at Staples.
If an item is sold out or temporarily out of stock, Woroch advises families to shop for last year's model or one that's certified refurbished. Almost every retailer offers this option, Woroch said, and "it usually comes with a warranty, so you have that peace of mind."
Otherwise, local businesses that are temporarily closed due to coronavirus restrictions could be willing to rent out their computers and even desks, desk chairs and other office equipment, which can save substantially on the cost of setting up at-home work areas, Woroch said.
To cut costs even more, Schulz recommends trimming down the shopping list to the things you absolutely need in those first few weeks.
If your child will be learning remotely, at least for now, hold off on new clothes and share school supplies among siblings, he said.
"There aren't a ton of silver linings in remote learning, as parents will tell you, but one of them would be your kids sharing supplies and saving on the cost that way."