Shopping for 2021

Back-to-School Shopping for 2021

The end of summer means a lot of things — last-minute vacation getaways, nights growing cooler and the promise of a new school year just around the corner. Back-to-school shopping can be a fun way to get excited about the upcoming term and start the year off with your best foot forward.

Being prepared is the key to success — here's what you need to know about back-to-school shopping for the 2021 school year.

Back-to-School Supplies

Students of all ages need these essentials:

  • A backpack: A backpack should be supportive, with adequate padding near the shoulders and strong straps that help evenly distribute its weight across your body. Look for bags with quality stitching and plenty of pockets and zippered compartments.
  • Notebooks: A combination of hardcover and softcover notebooks in various sizes will help you or your student keep track of class notes and complete assignments — just be sure to check any special requirements, like college-ruled or wide-ruled paper.
  • Writing utensils: Writing utensils — including pens, pencils, highlighters and erasers — need to be reliable and comfortable to use all day long, and it's always a good idea to have plenty of spares on hand.
  • Class-specific supplies: Some class-specific supplies might include a ruler, specialized calculators or craft supplies, like glue, crayons and markers.
  • Organizational tools: Staying organized is critical for balancing homework, tests and final projects. Sticky notes, binders, bulletin boards and pencil boxes, pouches or canisters will help you or your student stay on top of each assignment.
  • Textbooks: While you can usually find many of your textbooks at the campus bookstore, don't forget to compare prices on used textbook websites or contact former students who took the same course and offer to buy their unwanted books.

Shopping for
Back-to-School Clothes

Get Organized
Take Inventory
Involve Your Child
Shop During Sales
Go Thrifting
Have a List and Budget

Shopping for Back-to-School Clothes

A new year means it's time for back-to-school clothes! Here are some tips to simplify your shopping experience.

Get Organized

Back-to-school shopping for new clothes is the perfect excuse to organize your closets and dresser drawers. Divide all clothes into keep, donate and recycle piles, and then fold and hang your keep items. When you purchase new clothes for the upcoming year, you'll have enough space to accommodate everything.

Take Inventory

Take note of what you or your child already have in the closet, including essentials like:

  • A winter coat
  • A light jacket
  • A raincoat
  • Lightweight layers
  • T-shirts
  • Professional or semi-formal tops and bottoms
  • Warm weather clothes
  • Running shoes
  • Rain boots
  • Summer sandals
  • Socks and undergarments

Depending on your child's age, you might need to consider growth spurts — will their essentials still fit from last year? What about in a few months from now?

Involve Your Child

Personal expression is an important part of growing up, whether you're shopping for your upcoming college semester or you're helping your child prepare for their first day of elementary school. Choose one or two special splurge items, like a fun backpack, that help tell your story.

If you're a parent, work together with your child to teach them how to put together back-to-school outfits and offer guidance as they start shopping for themselves and making their own decisions.

Shop During Sales

Going back-to-school shopping on a budget? Collect flyers from local stores and follow your favorite brands online to track back-to-school sales for great discounts. You can also plan ahead by shopping during end-of-season sales — like when winter apparel goes on sale as summer starts — and stock up on the necessities while they're marked down.

Go Thrifting

Giving secondhand clothing a new life is ideal for the environment and often means getting a lot more for less money. Shop at secondhand shops, thrift stores and yard sales for new pieces and wash them before use. This is also a great way to find unique clothes from new brands.

Have a List and Budget

Create a list and budget to stay on top of your shopping to avoid forgetting key supplies. Consider the following:

  • The supplies you have leftover from last year
  • The specific classes you're taking and the required supplies for each
  • Special projects you anticipate working on this year or semester
  • Any extra-curricular activities you're participating in

If you're shopping with your young student, use this as a learning opportunity for budgeting and prioritizing. Guide them through the list-making process and help them make the right decisions. Consider visiting local school supply drives, in-person stores or shopping online to find all the items you need at the lowest available price.

Top Back-to-School Tech in 2021

Technology is an important part of modern education, and the right gear can help you stay focused and organized. Whether you're working from the comfort of your home or attending in-person classes, this is the top technology for students in 2021.

Laptops, Tablets and 2-in-1s

Right now, some of the best options on the market include the following:

Microsoft Surface Go 2
HP Envy x360
Lenovo Yoga 7i
MacBook Air M1
Dell XPS 13
Google Pixelbook Go

Laptops, Tablets and 2-in-1s

Laptops, tablets and 2-in-1 hybrids have become a necessity for college-age and younger students alike. Students use computers for a range of activities, from attending remote classes to completing final projects.

Right now, some of the best options on the market include the following:

  • Microsoft Surface Go 2
  • HP Envy x360
  • Lenovo Yoga 7i
  • MacBook Air M1
  • Dell XPS 13
  • Google Pixelbook Go

Each option has proven performance and specific benefits — such as 2-in-1 capabilities or portable sizing — that make it a worthwhile investment for students.

Regardless of your brand or model preference, consider the following factors before finalizing your purchase:

  • Size: Size includes the display screen size, width and the total weight of your laptop or 2-in-1. Make sure it will fit easily into your bag and won't be too cumbersome to carry to and from class every day. Other dimensions to consider are the size of the keyboard, trackpad and screen bezels.
  • Battery life: Battery life is one of the most critical factors to consider when purchasing a student laptop, tablet or 2-in-1 — after all, there's nothing worse than losing your notes or assignment in the middle of class because your battery couldn't keep up. Look for models with a long-lasting battery life — like 11 to 18 hours — and a quick charging time, so it's always ready when you are.
  • Performance: Performance factors include the laptop's available storage space, graphics card and capacity, RAM and CPU. If you're only using your laptop for basic assignments and web browsing, lower-spec models should be powerful enough. If you're also using the laptop for video streaming, programming, gaming or video editing, look for a model with higher specs to fit your needs — a salesperson can guide you through your choices.
  • Features: Make a list of "must-have" and "nice to have" features, like a touchscreen, an SD card slot, a kickstand, stylus compatibility or built-in webcam, and check the spec list on each device before purchasing.
  • Accessories: Optional accessories, like earbuds, wireless speakers, a mouse and external storage, let you customize your experience, while antivirus software, travel cases and sleeves will protect your investment.


Some tech purchases depend on your specific needs, hobbies and classes, such as:

  • Headphones and headsets: Headphones and headsets — which are headphones with a built-in microphone system for video and audio chats — are essential if you're tuning in to streamed classes from outside the classroom or if you spend a lot of your homework time using video tutorials or listening to e-books. Quality headphones and headsets should fit comfortably and securely against your ears and block out as much background noise as possible for optimal focus. While wired headphones are easy to use, they can limit your mobility — look for a pair of wireless Bluetooth ones, so you can enjoy uninterrupted listening on the go.
  • Class-specific tech: Some classes, like graphic design, digital art, photography, film, astronomy and medical courses, might require specific technology. Don't forget to pick up everything you need, like special tablets and instruments.
  • E-readers: Electronic readers, or e-readers, make it easier than ever to take your school books on the go. Instead of carrying multiple heavy textbooks, see if you can purchase some of them through an e-reader, so you can carry a single small device instead. Some e-readers have additional features that enhance the user experience, like the ability to highlight passages and research word meanings from within the text.
  • Electronic notebooks: Electronic notebooks are the perfect purchase for list makers and busy students. They look and function just like notebooks, with lined and unlined "paper," but instead of a pen or pencil, you write on it using a special stylus that transfers your notes into a digital file to sync with your laptop or smartphone. This saves paper and gives you endless space to take as many notes as you need without filling and transporting notebooks. It's also an effective way to backup critical notes about upcoming projects or exams.
  • Webcams: A good webcam has a clear picture and features like noise cancellation and customizable backgrounds. Logitech is a popular brand for students because they have a range of products available for all budgets and streaming or recording needs.

The Best Smartphones for Students in 2021

• Google Pixel 4a
• Apple iPhone 12
• Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
• BlackBerry 5G

The Best Smartphones for Students in 2021

Your smartphone will help you stay on schedule for classes, set important reminders for upcoming assignments, coordinate after-school activities, take notes, access learning materials and so much more. These are the best back-to-school tech deals for 2021 students.

Google Pixel 4a

The Google Pixel 4a is a perfect cellphone for students on a budget, sitting comfortably at a mid-range price without sacrificing style or performance. The device comes in your choice of a soft "barely blue" or classic black soft-touch polycarbonate unibody, with Gorilla Glass 3 protecting the screen.

Enjoy 128GB of storage to accommodate all your notes, pictures and apps, with extra features like the now-rare 3.5mm audio jack for wired headphones. While you won't get 5G abilities unless you upgrade to the Pixel 4a 5G, you'll have fast speeds powered by the Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 730G processing power and a long-lasting 3,140 mAh all-day battery and fast charging capability.

At just over 5 ounces and 5.7-by-2.7 inches, it's compact enough to slip into your pocket during class or talk on the go without too much strain. The rear and front-facing cameras are nothing to dismiss, with rich colors and sharp contrast that stand up to other mid-range devices on today's market. All in all, the Google Pixel 4a might be the right fit for you if you're not pledged to Samsung or Apple and want something fun and reliable without sinking thousands of dollars into your next smartphone purchase.

Apple iPhone 12

The Apple iPhone 12 is far from a mid-range device, but it's equally far from being the most expensive high-end model on the market. It sits somewhere between mid-range and the thousand-dollar minimum price tag of today's premium devices, with a sleek aluminum and Ceramic Shield construction boasting several pastels, neutrals and bold colors. Models come with up to 256GB of available space, depending on your configuration, with each model featuring the A14 Bionic chip in the processor.

All devices boast a long battery life with up to 17 hours of video playback and compatibility with both MagSafe wireless charging, Qi wireless charging and fast charging with the right connector. You also get three camera lenses — one TrueDepth in the front and an Ultra-Wide and Wide at the rear — to capture all of the school year's best moments.

Check out our guide to the Apple iPhone 12 for a closer look at this Apple release.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a premium device for the student who wants to handle as many of their assignments and tasks from the palm of their hand as possible. The Note offers a large 6.9-inch edge Infinity-O Display screen, with a compatible S-Pen stylus that makes it simple to take notes and draw diagrams for class and homework. So much screen real estate also means simplified video or textbook viewing.

With all that multitasking, you won't have to think twice about the battery — the Ultra comes equipped with a massive 4,500mAh battery and 25W charging, with an intelligent design that helps the battery anticipate your habits and preserve battery life as needed.

It's more expensive than others on the market, but if you spend a lot of time in the classroom or balance multiple activities throughout the year, the Note 20 Ultra could be just what you need. Learn more about the Ultra and prepare for an increase in productivity.

BlackBerry 5G

While the BlackBerry 5G phone isn't technically available for purchase yet, it's said to be released sometime within the first half of the year, with possible delays taking it into late 2021. We still included it on this list because it's the first heavy-hitting smartphone this decade with a physical keyboard that puts a fun, nostalgic twist on productivity.

The new BlackBerry 5G is more than a throwback to the smartphones of yesteryear — it's designed with professionals in mind, including top-notch security and privacy features and a sleek, modern design. Young professionals should keep an eye out for this release.

Sell Your Used Device for Instant Cash at ecoATM

If you're ready to upgrade to newer back-to-school tech essentials, ecoATM is here to help!

Sell Your Used Device for Instant Cash at ecoATM

If you're ready to upgrade to newer back-to-school tech essentials, ecoATM is here to help take your old one! With convenient ecoATM kiosks located across the country, it's simple to trade in your old device for instant cash you can put toward your smartphone upgrade. Price your phone today or find an ecoATM kiosk near you to get started!

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