By Annie Kim
Last Updated: August 15, 2021
Average family is planning to spend $360 on back to school shopping
August sales-tax holidays and back-to-school sales are opportunities to save
As American students enter their second full school year under the specter of COVID-19, for many of them, not much has changed since last year. But with COVID-19 cases rising in most states, and different state and local guidelines for classrooms this year, it’s unlikely to be business as usual anytime soon.
Still, a new school year brings the promise of hope, and students returning to in-person school signals at least a partial return to life before the pandemic. And, of course, back-to-school season means back-to-school spending (and sales).
What are parents expecting to spend this year to get their children ready to head back to the classroom, where are the best deals, and how can we expect the ongoing pandemic to impact the 2021-22 school year?
What People Are Spending & Where to Get the Best Deals
Parents who were unprepared for remote learning likely had sticker shock during the 2020-21 school year, with one respondent telling us they spent almost $7,000 to purchase computers, software, and other remote learning tools for just one child. On the other hand, families whose homes were already set up for online learning may find themselves spending more money this year, as they’ll have to purchase more physical school supplies than when school took place at home.
Our research found that the average household spending on school supplies will be just over $360 this year, while about one in five households with K-12 children will spend more than $450. Nearly half of households say they’re spending more this year than last year, while another 43 percent are spending the same amount.
The average parent is spending about $272 per child on school supplies this year, with more than one in four parents saying they’ll shell out more than $400 per child.
Per-child spending range
Getting the best bang for your back-to-school buck often means shopping a few different sales, and this school year looks to be no exception. While some parents may be able to get everything they need at a place like Walmart or Target, which are both offering deep discounts on a variety of products, folks looking for specific items may need to seek out more specialized retailers.
Lawmakers in several states have authorized sales tax holidays, and many of them coincide with back-to-school periods. That means for those who can plan their purchases accordingly (and who live in states that offer them), it’s a chance to buy supplies, clothing, and even computers without paying sales tax.
Just under 70 percent of parents from our research say they’re taking advantage of a tax-free weekend or other sales tax holiday where they live. Here’s a look at the upcoming tax-free holidays taking place in August 2021. Per-item spending limits may apply and vary by state.
|State||Dates||Applicable items and limits|
|Arkansas||August 7-8||Clothing: $100 Clothing accessories and equipment: $50|
|Connecticut||August 15-21||Clothing and footwear: $100|
|Florida||July 31-Aug. 9||Clothing: $60 School supplies: $15 Computers: $1,000|
|Iowa||August 6-7||Clothing: $100|
|Maryland||August 8-14||Clothing and footwear: $100|
|Massachusetts||August 14-15||$2,500 (applies to items purchased for personal use only)|
|Missouri||August 6-8||Clothing: $100
School supplies: $50
|New Mexico||August 6-8||Clothing: $100
Computer equipment: $500
School supplies: $30
|Ohio||August 6-8||Clothing: $75
School supplies: $20
|Oklahoma||August 6-8||Clothing: $100|
|South Carolina||August 6-8||Applies to items like clothing, footwear, school supplies, and computers; does not apply to items like smartphones or furniture|
|Texas||August 6-8||Clothing, backpacks, and school supplies: $100|
|Virginia||August 6-8||Clothing: $100
School supplies: $20
Best clothing deals
Back-to-school time at Old Navy includes discounts on hoodies, active wear, uniform clothes, and more. Get up to 75 percent off and lock in even more bargains with these Old Navy promo codes, and enter for a chance to win a $250 e-gift card.
JCPenney is offering big bargains on clothes, backpacks, and other essentials for students of all ages, from elementary school to college and beyond. Get free same-day pickup in some cities so you can avoid the crowds, and enter here for a chance to win one of our $250 e-gift cards to JCPenney.
The Children’s Place
The Children’s Place is the ideal spot to stock up on uniform necessities and other children’s clothing for kids and tweens. Get up to 60 percent off uniform clothes like polo shirts, 50 percent off leggings and shorts, and 40 percent off shoes. And click here for your chance to win one of two $250 e-gift cards.
With deals on uniforms, clothes, backpacks, and more for kids, juniors, and young adults, Kohl’s can help get your kids outfitted for the school year. Uniform clothing starts at 25 percent off, and tees for kids are as low as $7.99.
Best technology deals
Whether you’re looking for college essentials, STEM specialty machines, gear for teachers, or just about any other technology you could need, HP’s back-to-school sale will have something for you. Want a chance to win a free HP spending spree? We’re giving away two $250 e-gift cards at HP.
Outfit your teen or college student with all the tech they’ll need to succeed with Best Buy’s back-to-school bargains. Notable deals include $250 off a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet as well as $86 off a Frigidaire minifridge to fuel all-nighters in the dorm.
Best deals on school supplies
The world’s biggest brick-and-mortar retailer is offering bargains on everything from crayons and school glue to computer desks and technology. Walmart+ subscribers can get free shipping on all back-to-school items, saving them the hassle of a trip to the store.
With easy-to-clean plastic folders starting at 50 cents and other school essentials for as little as 25 cents, Target is ideal for families looking to stock up on often-used supplies. Take advantage of same-day delivery (in some areas) or free same-day pickup.
Amazon’s back-to-school deals this year are perfect for students of all ages, with bargains offered on things like pens and paper as well as technology and other essentials for college students. Get half off on pens, printer paper, planners, backpacks, and more.
Best deals on school supplies & technology
For shoppers focused on restocking their supply of items like folders, tape, pencils, glue, and other office essentials, Staples has a host of major discounts. The office retailer’s biggest discounts include presentation folders (66 percent off), notebooks (78 percent off), and index cards (62 percent off). Free delivery is available on some items, while others offer next-day delivery.
Like other retailers, Office Depot/Office Max offers specialized lists depending on the age of the back-to-school person, but deep discounts are available for students of all ages. That includes pocket folders starting at just 45 cents as well as up to $200 off a Lenovo 2-in-1 laptop, ideal for college students.
Get help with clothes, technology & other school supplies
More than two in three parents in our research said they planned to seek other types of back-to-school services like backpack giveaways, haircuts, and physicals. Among those who were planning to seek out these services, backpack/school supply events were the most popular.
Back-to-school assistance by type (among those seeking such services)
|Backpacks and basic school supplies||81%|
|Clothing or school uniforms||73%|
|Services such as haircuts and physicals||48%|
We can help you out with that, too. We’ve partnered with several of the retailers above to offer a total of $8,000 in e-gift cards. We’re giving away two $250 gift cards per week per retailer for the next month, so don’t miss your chance to sign up and get even bigger bang for the buck.
Enter to win $250 #BTSSavings gift cards:
The evolving status of the virus and the pre-existing differences in how the pandemic has been handled across the country both indicate that it’s impossible to say what impact COVID-19 will have on students of all ages this school year.
As positive cases of the virus continue to rise across most of the country, with experts blaming the delta variant of COVID-19, states and cities have considered changing their previous guidance when it comes to masks, vaccine requirements, and more.
At least six states (Connecticut, Hawaii, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, and Washington) will require elementary to high school students to wear face coverings in the fall regardless of their vaccination status, while other states have implemented laws that prohibit school districts from requiring students to wear masks.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a recommendation that everyone regardless of their vaccination status wear masks in K-12 schools, and outside school settings, the CDC says all people in areas where the virus is surging should wear masks indoors in public places. This mirrors guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics that all people wear masks in schools regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated.
But the impact of COVID-19 is hyperlocal, with conditions varying from city to city. Last year, about half of Houston public school students remained online learners, but the district expects to operate 100 percent in-person this year, while nearby districts like Galveston and Conroe say they don’t have the funding to offer virtual school. Meanwhile, the state of Alabama says all public school instruction will take place in-person despite rising cases of COVID-19 among children. In Mobile, the entire Baker High School football team was under quarantine recently.
Children between 12 and 17 are eligible to receive the vaccine, though kids younger than that have not yet been cleared to get the shot. Federal health officials have asked both Pfizer and Moderna to expand clinical trials of their vaccines in 5- to 11-year-olds.
More than 60 percent of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data, but that number is just over 11 percent for those under 18. However, this rate varies dramatically by state, reflecting the broader political and cultural divides over the vaccines and the fact that the shot has been authorized for the age group for many fewer months than for adults.
Vermont youth lead the nation in being fully vaccinated, with 22 percent of those under 18 having completed their final dose. The state also has the highest overall rate of vaccination for all age groups. Less than one percent of Idaho children are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Percentage of children fully vaccinated against COVID-19*
|District of Columbia||8%|
*Figures are updated daily; this information is accurate as of August 2021
We surveyed 538 U.S. parents with at least one K-12 child on their back-to-school plans for the 2021-22 school year. Our survey was conducted online.