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Safely Back to School: Spending on school supplies increases amid pandemic

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Posted at 4:04 PM, Jul 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-31 16:04:21-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The adventure is just beginning for the Cottrell family.

Mom Joy is preparing her two daughters for Jenison’s upcoming school year – another year that will be impacted by the pandemic.

The district’s back-to-school plans are unknown right now, but Joy’s 7th-grader, Taylor, knows she wants to attend school online.

But that comes at a cost.

Joy bought Taylor a computer, desk, chair, printer, headphones and invested in a new WiFi router.

“I’m guessing I spent about $1,000,” Joy said.

That number will double if her oldest decides to also do e-learning.

It’s a big jump from the $200 Joy says she usually spends.

But some members of the family have health conditions that may make them high-risk if they get COVID-19.

“If one of the students gets COVID-19, I have a father who just had open heart surgery,” Joy said. “My ex-husband's father has some heart issues as well.”

As back-to-school shopping ramps up, consumer experts believe more families will spend like the Cottrells.

The National Retail Federation predicts school spending will top the $100 billion mark for the first time ever.

Pricey technology, like laptops and headphones, is the reason why.

Meanwhile, another survey from Deloitte found total spending will be similar to 2019, with the increase in technology spending balancing an expected drop in purchases of things like clothing and traditional supplies.

Lindsay Reynolds, a shopping expert, adds that parents want their students to be successful no matter where learning takes place, so planning and structure is at the top of their minds when shopping.

“Bringing learning into the home is not just about stocking up on supplies,” Reynolds said. “It’s about exploring that learning and that creativity and that discovery for the family and integrating it into the lifestyle.”

Dan Giederman, a professor of economics at Grand Valley State University, says this spending will have little impact on the overall economy in the U.S. But it could provide yet another barrier to learning for low-income families.

“That potentially could be problematic, you know, in terms of providing future opportunities for children and the income distribution,” he said.

While districts wait for those questions to be answered, Joy says she’s doing what she can to make sure her students are prepared.

“We’ll do what we need to do to get these kids at least educated safely,” she said.