The top back to school shopping tips every parent needs to know

Here are back to school shopping tips every parent needs to know

Sometimes, the top back to school shopping tips every parent needs to know will have less to do with finding the right deal and more about making the right long-term buying decision. Getting supplies for the new school year, whether you’re looking for supplies and tools or software and expensive hardware, can get expensive. And, it’s important to know what you need and what can get the job done for your kids during the school year.

The best Chromebooks, for example, are great affordable portables that have ideal security features for kids in middle school. But, for students that need something a bit more robust, like someone in college, the best laptops with their bigger sets of features might be the way to go as it’s more robust and future-proof.

To help you navigate all this necessary shopping, we've gathered our pick of the best back to school shopping tips that every parent needs to know. They can help make sure you get the very best deals on the laptops, backpacks and gadgets you need to buy for school, college or university.

1. Know what you’re looking for

Before hopping between online stores and frantically buying all sorts of gadgets and gizmos for students before they head off back to school, you can save yourself a lot of time, money and energy by making a list of the essentials they need to buy.

A student’s needs will vary depending on their age, the academic institution they are attending and the courses they are taking, so it is worth making sure you know what they need before you buy. Talking to teachers or lecturers about the requirements, and studying any information you or the student have been sent about their course, will help you draw up a list of essentials.

2. Make use of our guides

We don’t like to toot our own horn (well, OK, we do), but we have some excellent back to school guides that can help you find and buy the perfect back to school devices.

First of all, you should make sure you visit our roundup of the best back to school sales. In that guide you'll find our picks of the best deals we've found for essential student equipment. From laptops and tablets, to headphones, smartwatches and those all-important backpacks, we'll show you the very best sales to help you prepare for going back to school without breaking the bank.

If you’re thinking of buying a laptop for yourself, or a student you know, and are not sure where to begin, check out our guide on how to buy the perfect back to school PC for any student.

Once you've read that, head over to our list of 10 best student laptops in 2021 for a rundown of the very best notebooks that will help with homework and coursework.

If you’re looking for a bargain, then check out our best laptop deals page for a constantly-updated list of the very best offers.

If you have more specific needs, then we also have a number of guides that can help you find the exact laptop for your needs.

So, we have the best laptops for engineering students which takes into account the particular requirements for those courses. 

If the course involves writing a lot, then check out our best laptop for writers guide. Or, if the course is about coding, our best laptop for programming in 2021 guide can help you out.

After buying a laptop, make sure it’s well looked after by checking out our list of the best back to school backpacks.

3. Don’t just get flashy devices

We’re all guilty of going for devices with stylish designs and bags of features that we’re not realistically going to use, but when buying a laptop – or any other device – for students going back to school, restraint in this area is essential.

As much as we all love to have gorgeously-designed devices we can pull out and wow people with, it can add costs to the overall price of the gadget, and it’s not a priority for students. With laptops being slung in bags, carried around campus and left under piles of clothes, those beautifully-designed bits of hardware won’t look very good for long, so you’d be better off going for something that’s built more robustly.

Having glitzy and glamorous-looking hardware can also make them more appealing for thieves as well.

4. Take advantage of student offers

One of the best things about being a student (apart from all the parties) is that you’re eligible for many money-saving offers, so when back to school season rolls around, make sure you make the most out of these.

For example, Apple offers discounts for students, so if you’re looking to get a Mac or iPad for school, make sure you check out our guide on how to get a student discount on Apple products – it could save you some serious amounts of cash.

Microsoft also has a similar student offer program, that’s worth checking out. We also show you how to get the Amazon Prime discount for students as well, just in time for going back to school.

If you’re a student in the US, Australia or the UK you can also sign up to the Unidays website. US and Australian students can also apply for an International Student Identity Card, giving you access to a number of special deals. Australian students can also check out Student Edge for student deals. 

5. Don’t be scared of second hand or refurbished kit

You can bag yourself a serious bargain by looking at second hand kit – especially refurbished hardware. This is hardware that has been professionally repaired and often comes with a warranty, so you can buy with confidence that although it is second hand, it is still as good as new.

We’ve partnered with eBay to bring you a guide on why refurbished buying is the perfect way to replace your old laptop

6. Refresh old hardware

Speaking of old hardware, if you have an ageing laptop that’s not being used much anymore, then it could find a new lease of life as a back to school laptop. If it’s running Windows and feels a bit slow, follow our guide on how to reinstall Windows. This is a great way to give an older machine a new lease of life.

You could also look into upgrading the hard drive to a solid state drive (SSD), which can give the laptop a much needed speed boost. Check out our collection of the best cheap hard drive and SSD deals.

Finally, you can help prolong the life of an old laptop by replacing Windows with a lightweight Linux distribution. These are operating systems that have been specially designed to run on older hardware, which means you’ll still get a fast and responsive experience no matter the age or power of your machine. Many Windows programs have Linux versions – or there will be (free) alternatives to use. Check out our list of the best lightweight Linux distros to help you choose. 

7. Wait for Black Friday

If you can hold off a few months then you can save yourself some serious bargains for going back to school when Black Friday and Cyber Monday roll around at the end of November, as shops – both online and traditional stores – cut prices for a huge range of products.

While by the time Black Friday and Cyber Monday hit students will have been back at school for a good while, it may be worth holding out for some of the expensive – though not totally essential – items, as you could end up saving decent amounts of cash. 

8. Use free software alternatives

Buying software, such as office suites and photo editors can be expensive. While specialist programs needed for certain courses may not have free alternatives, many common programs do.

So, if you or the student you know needs a word processor, or has to create spreadsheets or presentations, instead of splashing out on Microsoft Office, you should look at install the excellent free alternative LibreOffice, which has many of the same features. For more choices, check out our best free office software guide.

For students who need to make a lot of presentations, head over to our list of the best free presentation software.

While students are away from home, you’ll want to make sure they – and the devices they use – are fully protected from internet threats, and there are some great free security applications out there.

You’ll also want to make sure that any important coursework is properly backed up – as losing months of hard work and studying can be catastrophic, so make sure you visit our best free file recovery software roundup to help recover any missing files, and our best free backup software list.

Matt Hanson
Managing Editor, Core Tech

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.