It's that time again. Some of us are staring down the last days of summer break, with the start of school staring right back at us. (Even as others are figuring out what's next in their breaks that extend past August, allowing them to high-five Labor Day as the end of summer.)
But is the annual back-to-school buying pilgrimage and tradition really back to its pre-pandemic self? That depends. On a lot of factors, really.
Here in Los Angeles, the rising coronavirus delta variant is, among other truly concerning disruptions and impacts, raining a little chaos on planning for the school year. We've seen no shopping supply lists, classroom assignments or protocols outlined, or the few we have literally changed a week later.
Finding the humor where we can, the prep for back to school feels a bit like a scene from the classic slapstick comedy "Airplane" – so many moving targets and few details coming in for a landing.
►Back-to-school shopping: 15 must-have school supplies your kids need, by grade
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Despite my dream of returning to the tradition of strolling the Target and Walmart aisles, with nostalgia and irritation swelling in my chest with my excited, eager and occasionally sullen kids in tow, for us, that's not happening this year.
My second- and fifth-grade kids, who start school Aug. 16, will have to settle for the excitement of parking lot pickups and the thrill of doorbell-ringing package drop-offs because Mom's shopping on her phone at bedtime. And even then, I'm only really replacing clothes. The old jeans are pushing up to about knee-level now after a hiatus on school clothes last year, and there are no hand-me-downs coming this year.
(The upside is USA TODAY's resident savings maven Kelly Tyko is helping me shop smarter even from home: It was Ibotta's free school supplies and money back from virtual Old Navy and Walmart shopping sprees as well as strategically using Target Circle deals for the win.)
What's on your back-to-school shopping list?
Last year, top-of-the-list items were desks and laptops – and maybe even Zoom-presentable jammies. With the majority of the country now planning to return to full-time, in-person classes, we'd love to hear from you about what's on the top of your school shopping list this year and how you're approaching the prep.
Many of us at USA TODAY are parents, struggling with these questions and realities, too. To get you started, we're sharing what's on our minds and lists when it comes to shopping for back to school:
Back-to-school shopping used to be like Black Friday, a mad dash from store to store for way too many school supplies, in a sea of other harried parents. That’s way too people-y for the pandemic. Both last summer and this summer, I bought all the basics early online.
I did take my kids to a couple stores to pick out a few items they could personalize: composition notebooks, folders and pencil cases, as well as new shirts for the first day of school. I also got a handful of supplies from friends whose home offices were flush with Post-its and highlighters.
No more Black Friday-style shopping for me.
As my scribble scrabble supply list testifies, it’s hard enough to gather what my kids need. There’s no need to add extra stress worrying about crowds as COVID cases spike.
– Eve Chen, Consumer Travel reporter
Children: Elementary, high school
Location: Metro Atlanta
School start: Aug. 4
With 13 days until school starts, I was in bed, scrolling through websites on my phone to buy uniforms online for my kindergartner. I started online uniform shopping months ago but paused when our school district announced the uniform policy might change. Last year’s hybrid school year led administrators to temporarily scrap the uniform requirement. I had just found out uniforms for this year are optional but still recommended. Given masks are also optional but recommended, I’m going all in on both to make sure my 5-year-old daughter understands that recommendations are important for the good of the group. I purchased a few items each from The Children’s Place, Old Navy and Target and then roll over and go to sleep.
Any additional school shopping will have to wait given we don’t yet have a list of supplies that aren't provided. But prioritizing plans for keeping our children safe as COVID cases and the delta variant surge over supply lists seems like a reasonable tradeoff.
– Julia Thompson, Senior Editor, Travel and Consumer News
Children: Kindergartner and preschooler
School start: Aug. 9
This past weekend, I popped out on my front stoop and found several large boxes. When you're married to someone who loves Amazon, this is a daily occurrence. It marked some of our first purchases for back-to-school season. Masks. Lots of masks. Adult masks. Kid masks. Thankfully, dogs don't need them; otherwise, they'd be in those boxes, too. Also, lots of hand sanitizer. These are the new Trapper Keepers and Scratch 'n Sniff stickers. We've been buying clothes here and there to get ready, and while we await school supply lists from the school district.
At least the masks are covered, which as far as I'm concerned, is the must-have accessory when we're sending our kids back.
– Brett Molina, Consumer Tech reporter
Children: Elementary and middle schooler
Location: Washington, D.C.
School start: Aug. 30
What's your back-to-school shopping and prep looking like this year? We'd love to hear from you.
You can follow Michelle on Twitter @mmaltaisLA.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Back to school: School supplies shopping different in 2021