School is back in session and Covid-19 is still present and accounted for, creating a lot of uncertainty.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has said that students can return for the new school year, provided that schools follow guidelines to keep students and faculty safe. Still, back-to-school plans vary across states and districts and some have decided to stick to virtual learning this fall. 

Whether your kids are headed back to the classroom or back to the kitchen table, they’ll likely spend more time at home this year, and you’ll want to make sure you have everything you may need for them without spending too much. In fact, 44% of parents said they want a mix of in-person and virtual learning and 39% said they wanted school to be entirely virtual, according to a Washington Post poll

Here are some key items to consider, and some tips to help you manage and budget.

Returning to in-person learning

In addition to the standard pencils and notebooks you’d normally need for the classroom, you’ll probably want to make sure you have plenty of personal protective essentials such as masks, hand sanitizers, and sanitizing wipes to pack in your kids’ backpacks.

Shop around and buy in bulk. As of May 31, 2020, 43% of Americans said that they were spending more on health and hygiene products during the Covid-19 pandemic. Forty percent said that they were spending more on household cleaning products. And a return to in-person work and school means an increase in precautionary measures and products.

Try to find the most affordable and effective products. Buying cleaning products and masks in bulk can help you avoid unnecessary trips to the store and can save you money in the long run (although you might spend more upfront). 

Keep track of how much you spend on cleaning supplies and other pandemic essentials for your student in the first month of school. Then account for that spending as part of your essential expenses for the rest of the school year. 

Gauge other lifestyle changes. You might choose to pack your kids’ lunches or refrain from your usual carpool arrangements this year. Figure those changes into your budget. Adjust your budget accordingly to include more money for groceries or gas.

Don’t be afraid of donations. If you’re one of the 16.3 million currently unemployed Americans, look into how your family can benefit from local or national support. The National School Lunch Program provides free or subsidized lunches to 22 million kids in the U.S. You can apply for free or reduced school meals with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

You might also want to see if you’re eligible to receive free school supplies from groups such as the Salvation Army or the Boys and Girls Club of America. Also figure out what cleaning supplies and protective equipment will be provided by the school so that you’re not spending unnecessarily.

Making the at-home classroom work

Kids who are learning from home this year are likely to need a slightly different set of tools than kids who are heading into educational facilities. With half a year of remote learning already under your belt, you may have an idea of what you need, but here are some suggestions. 

Look for deals when it comes to technology. Your kids’ school or district might provide you with the technology that your kids need to learn remotely. But you may need additional equipment such as computers, tablets, or webcams. Look for sales, particularly end-of-summer deals on technology. You might also be able to find discounts specifically for students. 

Budget-friendly laptops, like the Chromebook, start around $300. If your computer needs a webcam, you can get one for as little as $25.

Reportedly 20% of students don’t have access to the technology that they need. Another issue for many at-home learners is internet connectivity. In Washington D.C. and five states—West Virginia, New Mexico, Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana—25% of students (or more) don’t have reliable access to the internet. 

Consider revisiting your wireless internet plan. The median monthly price for 100 megabits per second (mbps)  WiFi is $64.99, according to the Wall Street Journal. The standard internet speed is between 100 and 249 mbps, and 100 mbps can handle multiple users at a time. If you live in an area with more than one internet provider, see if you can get a better deal and better service from a different provider. Or, call your provider and see if you can get a higher speed plan, or negotiate the cost of your plan.

You might have already created a space for schoolwork during the spring. Try to designate a part of your home for learning. And make sure you have all of the software and apps (such as Google Classroom or Zoom) ready to go and functioning before day one. Check with your school district, which may provide those services, so you can figure out the login information ahead of time. Zoom is even offering free service to many K-12 schools during the pandemic.

Know how you can access free meals and supplies. Just because your kids are learning from home doesn’t mean that they’re excluded from the benefits of going to school, such as free or subsidized meals, if they usually receive them. You can use this tool from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to see where you can still access those meals near you while still maintaining social distancing guidelines. 

If you plan to make your kids meals every day, try to plan your meal prepping so that you’re not constantly in the kitchen making the next sandwich or snack. 

Your kids will still need basic school supplies such as pens, folders, and more. You can likely still access free supplies from local organizations even though your kids will be learning from home. 

How Stash can help

While getting ready for the 2020 school year is a massive task, Stash has a few ways to help you budget. You can create partitions in your Stash banking account for your various expenses and savings objectives. Partitions allow you to save money toward any financial goal you choose, from buying new school supplies to setting up a home learning area.1 

Confused about making a budget? It’s part of the Stash Way, which you can find out about here.

You might also want to use your Stash debit card when you go shopping for school supplies so that you can earn Stock-Back® rewards2 on those purchases. Stock-Back® is our proprietary rewards program that lets you earn pieces of stock when you spend on qualifying purchases with your Stash debit card. So when you buy your kids a new laptop or desk, you can earn fractional shares of stocks. So you can earn rewards without putting those purchases on a credit card and accruing debt. 

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