Back-to-School Budget 2020: How to Save Money This Year

Back-to-School Budget 2020: How to Save Money This Year
BY Anna Baluch
Aug 24, 2020
Key Takeaways:
  • School costs are different during a pandemic.
  • At-home learners may spend more on computers, internet services and possibly tutors. In-persona students will spend for masks, sanitizer and possible testing.
  • At-home students will save on school clothing, field trips and extracurriculars, and supplies.

As a result of the pandemic, most schools shut down in late March and students were required to transition to distance learning. Most of the country hoped they would reopen in August or September, and the 2020-2021 school year would go on as “normal.” For many schools, this will not be the case.

The upcoming school year will be different, to say the very least. Some schools are continuing distance learning while others are reopening with special precautions. In addition, some children will be participating in learning pods, which can offer a combination of face-to-face and distance learning, mostly organized by parent groups.

If you’re a parent with school-aged children, you may be wondering how their new learning situation could affect your back-to-school budget and shopping. Keep reading for some tips on how to shop, budget, and manage your money for this year’s very unusual back to school season.

Face-to-face learning

The face-to-face option aims to keep the school experience as normal as possible while incorporating safety measures like masks, staggered schedules, and temperature checks. If your student is physically going back to school, here are some areas where you may have to spend some money, and some where you might save:


  • Masks: Your children will probably need to wear masks to school every day. Consider buying a number of masks in various colors and designs so they have options to choose from every morning. Making a mask choice part of choosing school outfits can make wearing them more normal, if not fun. Having plenty of masks on hand is also important because, as we know, kids lose things.

  • Hand sanitizer: Hand sanitizer is one school supply that may not have been on your list in the pre-coronavirus era. However, it’s certainly worth the investment this year as it can help your children keep their hands clean and germ free throughout the school day.


  • Fewer school supplies: There is no guarantee that your children will participate in face-to-face learning for the entire school year. Since things can change in the blink of an eye, consider buying school supplies just for the semester, rather than for the full academic year. You can always purchase more supplies later if needed.

  • Simpler school supplies: In the past, you may have purchased deluxe or extra versions of regular school supplies such as large packages of colored pencils or markers for your child to swap or share. Since sharing is not a great idea this fall, save on buying the deluxe versions and stick to regular ones instead.

  • Tax holidays: While most occur in July and early August, there are still a few states that offer tax free holidays where you may skip sales tax on certain items like clothes or school supplies. Big retailers in your area may also be extending bargains or tax breaks this year, so shop around.

Learning Pods

Also known as pandemic pods, learning pods are small, in-person groups of students who are taught by a tutor, teacher, or even parents. These pods can be a good option for kids who don’t adapt well to fully remote learning environments, but they bring added costs of their own. So, if you are part of a pod, keep a close eye on spending.


  • An experienced teacher or tutor: The learning pod experience could be enhanced with an experienced teacher or tutor. You’ll probably work with other parents to do your research to find the right professional, but places to start your research include sites like Swing Education, Chegg Tutors, com, and even Facebook groups for your area.

  • Desks and other furniture: As a group, your pod may purchase desks (spaced at least six feet apart) to give your children a nice place to complete their schoolwork. Make sure the desks you purchase are the right heights for the kids in your pod and offer enough room for them to comfortably spread out their textbooks, laptops, and other school supplies. Take a look at apps like OfferUp, Nextdoor and LetGo for used furniture to supply the pod.


  • Textbooks: Textbooks can be pricey, especially if they’re brand new. However, they can be a major component of learning pods if you need to supplement your electronic materials. Consider used and rentable textbooks from sites like BookFinder and Knetbooks to save money while still providing your children with the learning resources they need.

  • School supplies: Since your learning pod will involve other parents whose children will also be learning through this method, purchase school supplies with them. This way you can buy things like notebooks, folders, and other supplies in bulk.

Distance Learning

We are all familiar with how distance learning works by now, having more or less survived last semester. Since your kids will be learning mostly via Zoom, WebEx, or other conference platforms and communicating through text, email, and chat, they’ll need good devices and stable internet connections.


  • Computers: Since properly functioning laptops or desktops are the key to a positive distance learning experience, make sure you purchase high quality ones for your children. Quality doesn’t always mean brand new, you can look for used or refurbished options on places like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.

  • Internet connection: A stable and high-speed internet connection is another essential item for distance learners, so this is something you don’t want to skimp on, but you can still shop smart. To land a good deal on your internet, shop around and compare prices or bundle it with your cell phone or other services.


  • Fall clothing: Your kids may be less focused (you hope) on making a head-to-toe fashion statement if they are distance learning. If that is the case, you may be able to steal money from the coat or shoe budget for the laptop you need to buy.

  • Field trip or extracurricular fees: In-person field trips and school events just won’t exist for most distance learners. Since these common school fees probably won’t be a feature of fall semester, shift this savings over to school supplies, or back into your electronics fund. Fortunately, your children may still enjoy virtual field trips to places like the zoo, farms, and aquariums. You’ll enjoy it because it will be much cheaper and require no parent car pools.

Take control of your financial future this fall and beyond

If you’d like to manage your debt and cover your children’s back-to-school expenses while setting yourself up for a healthy financial future, our free guide might help. It’s full of the information and tools you need to succeed. Get started today by downloading our How to Manage Debt Guide now.

Learn More