By Kate Rockwood
For every parent, back to school is a hectic time. Supplies need to be bought, doctor’s appointments need to be made, and your kids (and you) need to adjust to a new schedule. And after the COVID-19 pandemic moved last spring’s classes online for many across the country, your kids might be even less prepared for heading back to school than after a typical summer.
The start of a new school year brings a lot to be excited about, but preparing for it can be expensive and overwhelming for both you and your kids. Here are some tips for knocking out your back to school to-do list while minimizing stress and finding ways to save.
The end of summer is a great time to get your kids in for their annual check-up. Most schools require all vaccinations to be up-to-date, and many sports and activities may require a doctor’s sign-off before they can participate. Under the Affordable Care Act, most healthcare plans cover these yearly preventative check-ups and shots at little or no cost to you, meaning there really is no downside to getting your kids (and yourself, while you’re at it) in for an appointment before their schedules get busy.
Medicaid also at least partially covers all of the recommended vaccines for children. If you don’t have health insurance or are worried about the out-of-pocket costs, the Vaccination Program for Children can help your kids get vaccines for free. If you’re looking to get your kids insured, you can visit InsureKidsNow.gov to see if you qualify for the low- or no-cost healthcare options in your state.
If it seems like back-to-school spending costs an arm and a leg, you’re right—families with children in elementary through high school planned to spend an average of $696.70 on back-to-school gear in 2019, according to the National Retail Federation. But luckily there are plenty of opportunities to save on supplies.
Clothing tends to top families’ back-to-school spending. While a fresh outfit can help your kids feel excited and confident for the new school year, take inventory of what you already have before heading to the store. Make a pile of anything that no longer fits, and make plans to donate, hand-me-down, or garage sale these items. This will help you figure out what your kids actually need (not just what they want). Consider holding off on buying some fall or winter items—many clothing stores slash prices in late September after the initial back-to-school rush.
Do the same for school supplies—go through last year’s notebooks and pencils and make a pile of anything that can be reused. Then, shop the back-to-school sales to score deals on new anything you still need. Many states even have sales tax holidays leading up to the fall to help you save a bit more.
Many local United Way programs partner with businesses or organizations in the community to offer backpacks and school supplies to families in need. Call 211 to find out about resources in your area.
Get your kids back in school mode with some review activities! The Department of Education offers free resources and activity ideas for helping young school-age children with math, science, history, and reading. The National Summer Learning Organization, Start With a Book, and Camp PBS Kids also feature a variety of free and fun activities specifically designed to keep kids engaged in education throughout the summer.
The relaxing days of summer make it easy for your kids’ sleep schedule to get out of whack—stay up too late watching movies, sleep in until lunch because, well, no school! But in the weeks leading up to the start of the school year, it’s important to get them back into a regular sleep schedule, so they’re bright-eyed and ready for that first early morning school day.
Sleep is key to helping kids stay focused and alert during long school days— it’s recommended that school age children get 9-12 hours of sleep each day. Help your kids get to sleep on time by building consistent bedtime routines and limiting screen time before bed.
Will one kid have swim lessons on Wednesdays, while another has soccer Tuesdays and Thursdays? Think ahead to your kids’ school year schedule and start planning for how your kids will get where they need to go. If you’ll need after school care, check into what programming your school offers or look for a nearby YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, or other organization.
Involving your kids in this planning can ease anxieties or confusion and help them understand who will be there to drop them off and pick them up each day. Maybe they’ll head to after school programming four days a week but on Fridays grandma gets them early. Whatever the plan is, make sure everyone’s on the same page.
Sign up to receive our monthly newsletter, offering the latest health & wellness news and savings tips, delivered right to your inbox.