6 Tips for 2021 Back-to-School Shopping

piles of school supplies
(Photo courtesy of Rebecca Alwine)

Updated: July 26, 2021

Just like everything else this year, back-to-school shopping looks a little different.

That even applies to military families, who are used to finding a house, registering for school and shopping for supplies all inside a 48-hour window. Our lives are regularly full of change, but 2020 wore us out and 2021 isn't doing much better.

You may be thinking that nothing can make school supply shopping better, but fear not. There are some tricks. And since my children's school district is among the first to go back this year (yup, they start next week), let me share some of what I've learned.

1. Take inventory. Start by looking at what your kids need and then check what you already have on hand. Often, they don't use all the supplies from one year to the next, and if they were home the last quarter of last year, you may have extras. See what you need, check the quantities required for more than one kid, and then go shopping.

2. Shop online. I know some of you like shopping in stores, but I've been buying school supplies online forever. Target's School List Assist is a great option, and then you can do curbside pickup or have it delivered. I shopped at Amazon and Target, where I was able to buy everything on two lists for a reasonable amount of money.

3. Buy more masks. Chances are your kids already have a mask or two, but you're going to want more -- one for each day of the week and a spare. When you find the kind that fits your kid well, buy a lot. Some great options include the disposable ones or Cat & Jack from Target; Old Navy has packs of 5. If you still have your stash from last year, get them ready to go.

Related: 10 Back-to-School Deals for Military Families

4. Shop sales. There's no reason to pay full price for, well, anything. But definitely not for school supplies or clothes. Back-to-school shopping trips can wipe out your budget, especially if they come on the back of a move. But if you can buy items in bulk, get them on sale or split up the cost over two months, you may be able to save money.

5. Delegate. Over the past few years, my service member has managed to snag leave for that last week of summer/first few days of school. It's been wonderful. I have sent him to the store with the shopping list. He took our daughter to the mall for clothes and handled the school's open house last year while I was in the emergency room with our toddler. Delegate and outsource things. Have your teenager load up the Amazon cart with what they need. Ask your mom to shop around for some items if you don't have time. Use your virtual village and save your sanity.

6. Don't stress. If there's anything we've learned over the last few months, it's that things will change. Last year, we had no idea what was going on with school and things changed last minute. This year, well, we still aren't really sure. Things are fluid, and getting hung up on one plan will drive you crazy. Trust me, I'm already there.

This school year is going to look different from last year, which looked different from the year before, and it's OK. As a military family, you've weathered a lot, and this year is no exception. Count your blessings, buy the sharpened pencils and embrace this adventure, just like every other.

-- Rebecca Alwine can be reached at rebecca.alwine@monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebecca_alwine.

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