Managing back-to-school expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic

FARMINGTON HILLS, MI (September 3, 2020) — Many of the nation’s school districts are delaying the start of school or choosing to open remotely as coronavirus cases surge. Individual districts are contemplating what is best for their communities this academic year — return to the classroom, remote learning or a hybrid approach.

A report from the National Retail Foundation says that households are likely to spend a record amount to provide lunches at home, laptops and computer accessories, reliable connectivity, and additional tutoring to support students in school and college. Elementary through high school parents plan to spend an average of $789 per family, while college students and their families expect to spend an average of $1059 per family.

Pre-pandemic, about half of U.S. families reported having trouble finding care for a young child.1 Parents who return to work must consider the health and economic risks when enrolling their child(ren) in available day care, entrusting them with a grandparent or hiring a nanny. Many parents who stay home to care for their child(ren) often must contemplate how to manage their expenses on a reduced income.

“The start of this school year is unlike any other. Parents are managing the stress of schooling at home, working from home, finding a job or trying to get by with reduced income,” said GreenPath Financial Wellness CEO Kristen Holt. “The most important guidance we can offer is to remind people that they are not alone. Having a plan-of-action can help you feel more in control. GreenPath counselors can lend an emphatic ear, assess a household’s entire financial picture and help them develop a customized plan to tackle atypical expenses during an atypical time.”

How do families manage atypical school expenses and child care costs? GreenPath, a national nonprofit that provides financial counseling and debt management services, suggest the following:

  • If families are in need of devices and internet, parents should check if their school district provides students with laptops and other technology, free breakfast and lunch pickup and other services. Comcast and many providers are offering eligible customers internet service without charge.
  • Many nonprofits, educational providers and even some benevolent teens are providing free or discounted access to online tutoring tools.
  • Rethink the spending plan. Prepare a pandemic budget as a family. Utilize a budgeting worksheet and other resources. Cut back on expenses where possible.
  • Avoid “steal” deals. Stick to the budget. Consider if the item is needed now or can be purchased later. Watch credit card balances. Model financial discipline among the kids.
  • Prioritize child care as an essential expense along with medicine, food and housing.
  • Negotiate costs where possible. Check if one’s municipality is offering child care assistance for essential workers.
  • Seek out nontraditional care centers like libraries and nonprofits.
  • Consider participating in a pandemic pod, where a small group of parents take turns caretaking for the kids, or share the costs of an in-person child care resource.
  • Leverage all available assistance. Use utilities and insurance discounts and redirect funds typically used for commuting/transportation, etc. towards payments or building up an emergency fund.

About GreenPath Financial Wellness

As one of the largest financial counseling agencies in the nation, GreenPath Financial Wellness has assisted millions of people with debt and credit management, student loans, homeownership and foreclosure prevention. Headquartered in Michigan, GreenPath and its affiliates work directly with individuals, banks, credit unions and employer partners across the U.S. from more than 33 locations and through phone access and online tools. GreenPath is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, Michigan Diversity Council, Texas Diversity Council, and is accredited by the Council on Accreditation. To learn more, visit or call 866-648-8122. Follow the nonprofit on Facebook and Instagram @greenpathfinancial and on Twitter @GreenPath.


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