This school season, families across the country are moving to remote learning. You may find yourself in this situation by choice — or not.
No matter the reason your kids are taking part in virtual education, of course you want to do everything you can to make sure they’re successful in this new school year.
One way, as parents, we can do this is to make sure our kids have all the tools they need. And even though this school year looks different than anything we’ve seen before, there are still some tried and true ways to save money on back to school supplies — even as your shopping list evolves from “Crayola crayons” to “cheap laptops.” Here’s how to get all your distance learning supplies without breaking the bank.
Build a Budget-Friendly Learning Space
If you can, create an area in your home where your child can complete his or her studies. It could be the desk in their room, a table in the den, or even a place in the basement. Nothing fancy. Just let your child help decorate with a few small touches they’re excited about — even things you already have at home.
It doesn’t matter as much where you set this up as much as that you do. (Of course, you’ll want to set up shop somewhere close to you if you have a child in elementary school who needs help with the lessons. If you have a college student home from campus, they’ll probably want to be as far away from you as possible …)
In their little space, your kids will then be able to sit down and have everything they need, right at their fingertips. It also provides them the opportunity to “go to school” but heading to that designated spot. You might even encourage them to keep their school projects in their backpack and tote it back and forth from their bedroom to their “classroom” to create a little separation between home and “school.”
Of course, not all families have the space for this. If that’s you, create a school “box” (even an old lunch box for their art supplies!) that has everything your child needs so that each day, when they begin their schoolwork, they have all their essential distance learning materials right there ready to go.
Chromebook vs Laptop for Distance Learning
If your school provides students with a laptop for home use, you do not need to make any investments here. But if you’re not that lucky and you don’t have an old business laptop collecting dust somewhere, you’ll need to buy your student a device, and that can be a big ticket item. You might be wondering if you need to buy your kid an expensive laptop.
Fortunately, I’m here to say that most kids DO NOT need a full-blown laptop. (Nor do they need the latest Macbook Pro or whatever’s trendy in retina display or touch screen technology or the fastest processor available, no matter what they tell you.) They can do their remote learning and complete any assignment all through a simple Chromebook.
A Chromebook only allows your student the ability to connect to the Internet. It looks like a laptop but does not have software programs and apps like a regular laptop. Instead, there are online “in the cloud” versions of software (for things like word processing) that allow your child to do anything you can do on a laptop, but on a much less robust machine.
For this reason, they’re a more affordable option for parents. You can often find them for less than $300 through most retailers, and there are a lot of laptop deals out there right now because the demand is so high.
Chromebooks run Google’s Chrome OS (operating system) — hence the name — and are sold by many electronics companies, so you’ll see lots of options, such as:
- HP Chromebook
- Acer Chromebook
- Samsung Chromebook
- Lenovo Ideapad
- Dell Chromebook
Don’t stress about finding the perfect one. They all do the same thing. The one feature I suggest paying attention to is battery life — the longer, the better so the teacher doesn’t go dark in the middle of a lesson plan.
If your older child for some reason needs more than what a Chromebook allows, consider buying a used, cheap Windows laptop. Check your local classifieds, online neighborhood groups, and Facebook groups for leads on a refurbished laptop. Ask friends and family — even your employer — if they have a cheap laptop they’d be willing to sell or let you borrow.
Negotiate for a Cheaper Internet Bill
Your Internet connection is one resource you should not overlook.
The worst thing that could happen is your child is in the middle of taking a test or an important lesson when the connection buffers or goes down.
Your provider will have options — you’ll probably need one that can handle many devices online at the same time — and may offer pricing bundles that fit your budget. And as always, don’t be afraid to negotiate for a cheaper Internet bill!
Save on the New Must-Have for 2020: Blue Blocking Glasses
Your child is going to spend a lot of time looking at a computer screen — probably not one with the biggest screen size. That can lead to tired eyes. After extended screen time, your child may have blurred vision, be tired, or end up with red eyes.
One way to help combat eye strain is through the use of blue blocking glasses, which help block the blue lights that are emitted from the screen.
In addition to using the glasses, encourage your child to take several breaks throughout the days to lessen the strain and give the eyes some much needed rest.
Sunshine Is Free!
Ensure your child has proper lighting for reading. If their “classroom” is in a well-lit space, you may not need anything more.
But if you don’t have very good lighting, get a table lamp to add to your student’s desk or table. You may want to consider purchasing an LED lamp because that can compensate for the reduced amount of natural lighting that is helpful for learning. The good news with this purchase is at least that LED lights last forever.
How to Save Money on School Clothes
Distance learning or not, most kids want to be seen in “the right” clothes when they hit a certain age. Instead of spending a bunch of money on brand-name, brand-new clothes, use up a gift card from their favorite brand that’s been sitting around or try some “vintage” items at consignment shops. A lot of popular brands have outlet stores where you can get great deals, too. (Just watch out that you don’t buy more than what you need!)
And maybe your kids will take a page from so many parents’ clothing playbook these days: Business up top, pajamas on the bottom. That’s half as many clothing items to buy — those jeans can be expensive! 😉
How to Save on the Standard School Supplies List
Just because your child is doing virtual learning this year doesn’t mean you can skip your standard fall school shopping trip for office supplies.
Make sure they have these school essentials:
- Spiral notebooks
There may be other requirements, such as colored pencils or glue sticks. If you’re not sure what you need, review your child’s school supply list (for regular, in-person attendance) and get the same things for your student this year.
I love a good dollar store and go shopping at Dollar Tree and Dollar General year-round — back to school time included! If you don’t have one near you and are pressed for time (do you know a parent who isn’t?!), don’t worry. Many stores run back-to-school sales on the basics, and you might get an even better deal at a big box store like Walmart or Target by combining the sale price with a coupon or the store’s loyalty program or app.
- Want to learn more about saving money with coupons? Here’s everything you need to know to start saving money with coupons.
Stay Sane With Dollar Store Organizers
Make sure you have tubs, bins and storage containers to keep track of all those supplies.
Use paper sorters to separate the work by subject. Use pencil cups to sort markers, pencils, and art supplies.
You can find great, cheap options at a thrift store, dollar store, or garage sale — or maybe you can even make some containers using upcycled items from around the house. (Bonus: Making your own storage containers can be a craft project to keep the kids occupied before all the e-learning begins.)
Save Money on Additional School Supplies for Virtual Learning
External Hard Drive
Computers crash. It happens. Having an external drive allows your child to back up their work so they never lose anything at all. (These are also great for backing up all your family’s digital photos.) Watch for deals or coupons at your local big box electronics retailer. Check membership clubs like Costco for good prices, and consider applying any Amazon store credit you’ve built up toward your hard drive purchase.
A white board is a very helpful tool for learning. It can be used for your child to track their work or can be used for daily lessons.
If you plan to add it to a wall, use command strips so you an easily take it down — both to move it around the house and to allow your student to have next to them as they work out that complicated math problem. And there’s nothing worse than hunting for a dry erase marker when you need one, so buy a pack now to save frustration and money later.
Your child needs to keep track of his or her daily work, and that’s where a planner helps. They will be able to write down the work that needs to be done and any upcoming assignments.
A planner is also excellent for letting your child cross off items when they’re done. There is nothing more satisfying than scratching through that big project they worked hard to complete! Save money by creating one page of a planner tailored to your child’s school needs and making photocopies for the following days/weeks.
- Pro tip: Chore charts are another tool to keep your family on track. Get my free printable chore chart.
Many Chromebooks and laptops are equipped with a webcam. If yours is not, you will need to get one.
One thing I would also recommend getting for your webcam (whether built in or not) is something to cover the camera when not in use. I don’t mean to alarm you, but there are some scary people who know how to hack these cameras and could spy on your child. A simple piece of black paper or cardboard clipped over the camera using clothespins should do the trick.
Headphones or Earbuds
One simple way to stay focused when learning is to drown out any noises. Wearing earbuds or headphones will allow your child to focus 100% on the lesson being taught. As with the computer, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on name brand options to get the job done here.
Touchpads are great, but they can be more difficult for small children to use (or even your big kid). Getting a mouse ensures they can navigate the platform they are using for their online learning. A wireless mouse can eat through batteries, so if you’re concerned about that expense, look for one with a cord you plug into the computer.
Breaks are important for kids. Using a timer can help.
When your child is getting tired of learning, he or she can glance at the timer in front of them and see they have only five more minutes until they get to close their computer or put down the pencil. Use an old stopwatch or egg timer, or if your student is set up at the kitchen table, turn on the timer on the oven or microwave.
Saving Money on Back to School Supplies in 2020
Yes, you’ll need to make some additional investments this year for your child to be successful with remote learning. But as a parent, education is the best gift you can give them. And as a fellow penny pincher, you now know you don’t need to break the bank doing it.
What other money-saving hacks are you using during this time of remote learning? Please share in the comments below!