How School Shopping Will Be Different This Year

boy going to school with mask


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boy going to school with mask

Books or Booze?

Will we be stocking up on school supplies this year or booze? This is a popular meme that has been floating around social media the past few weeks, and while it is a joke, there is some truth to it. Parents and even school officials don't know what to advise parents to buy for the school year 2020-21. With the novel coronavirus still spreading, schools actually being in session come August is still speculation. Many districts have put out hypothetical plans for children to attend school in a safe and socially distanced way, but if those plans actually come to fruition is yet to be seen. Which leaves many families puzzling over what to expect to buy during the back to school shopping season. Below are some very real back-to-school shopping realities parents might face very soon. (If your schools don't reopen, here's What a Teacher Wants You to Know About Homeschooling.)

Related: I'm a Single Mother. Here's How My Life Has Changed During the Pandemic

shelf shortage

Supply Shortages

Among the biggest shocks of COVID-19 have been supply shortages. These have ranged from disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer to meat, bicycles, and pools. There is no reason back-to-school shopping will be any different. Many of these shortages are due to a very sharply increased demand (disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer) mixed with manufacturing plants shutting down due to rapidly spreading coronavirus among workers (the meat industry). Other shortages are due to new social distancing preferences — who wants to swim in a public pool around other people when you can buy one and set it up in your own backyard? And then there are shipping delays due to COVID-19 as well. The combination means there is a fairly good chance school supplies will go through the same shortages. 

Related: 14 Creative Alternatives to Household Products in Short Supply — and 4 to Skip

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Online Shopping

These days with the pandemic raging on, the thought of going into a physical store is much more complicated than it once was. You must follow social distancing rules, wear a mask, and at times wait to enter a store. Many parents will find it easier now more than ever before to just order school supplies online instead of heading to an actual bricks-and-mortar store.

Related: 16 Insider Tips and Secrets for Frugal Online Shopping

Coat rack of a school boy in a new normality


Since most in-school days came to an abrupt halt last year, your child likely didn't get a full year of use out of their backpacks, and the backpacks likely won't get as much use in the first part of this year due to hybrid learning (a mix of online learning and in the classroom learning). Many of those backpacks have just collected dust the last six months, so the need for a new backpack might be lower this year as opposed to past years.

Related: What Kids Carry in Their Backpacks Around the Globe

doing homework in room


Apparel has always been a large spending category in back-to-school shopping, but these are unprecedented times. Parents are much more strapped for cash with a failing economy, job losses, and cut hours, so they simply aren't buying things they don't need. There is more of a wait-and-see approach to buying apparel these days — just ask the shoe industry, which has seen significantly lower sales of dress sandals since women were not going to work. If kids are doing online learning from home, or even a hybrid mix of some in school days and some online days, the need for apparel goes way down and parents can save that cash for other needs unique to this school year.

Related: 14 New Rules for Clothes Shopping During the Pandemic

back to school masks

Face Coverings

New to the school supply lists this year are face coverings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone over the age of 2 wear a face covering in public places to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. So most schools will likely have a face-covering policy that results in parents needing to provide a certain number of face coverings per child. College students should be sure to have these, too, as they head back to college campuses. 

Related: Masks and Accessories to Make Covering Your Face More Comfortable

back to school covid

Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer

Something that has often graced many a school supply list, hand sanitizer will be in far greater demand this year and far harder for parents to find as they shop for school supplies. One thing is certain: To kill COVID-19, plan to get hand sanitizer that is 60 percent alcohol-based or greater. College students will want to stock up on hand sanitizer, too, as they head back to campuses.

Related: 11 Ways to Keep Back-to-School Germs at Bay

disinfecting wipes

Disinfectant Wipes

As with hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes will also be on most school supply lists, but finding them these days is harder than ever. To make sure you are getting a disinfectant wipe that will actually kill COVID-19, be sure you are referencing the Environmental Protection Agency's comprehensive list of approved products. Disinfectant wipes can also be used to wipe down laptops and cell phones as needed in the college setting too.

Related: How to Disinfect Without Harming Your Stuff (or Yourself)

girl studying noise cancelling headphones

Noise-Canceling Headphones

As college students head back to shared and small living quarters this fall, it will be necessary to prepare them for the possibility of online learning with a roommate nearby. Noise-canceling headphones are a good option to block out noise when they're listening to an online lecture. 

Related:  20 Hacks and Tips for Video Chatting on Zoom, Hangouts, and More

noise cancelling app

Noise-Canceling App

Roommates, family members, and sharing a space in general with someone can make it harder to participate in online class discussions. A noise-canceling app that filters out background noise should be included on your college school supply list in case the need arises for online learning. 

Related: 100 Tech Products That Will Make Your Life Easier

office supply store

Double Up on Supplies

As parents prepare for an unprecedented school year, keep in mind that at any given week or day, the need may come up to switch gears to complete online learning again. Be better prepared this year than last year and double up on some of those classroom supply lists so you have enough supplies to keep at home and do school from home if you should need to make that switch again.

Related:  I'm a College Sophomore and the Pandemic Turned My Life Upside Down