Back to School

August 28, 2020

Ahhhh, the good old days. When we’d gleefully count down until the end of a school year with the lunch packing and the homework checking and the waking up of the cranky children who just want five more minutes of sleep. We’d let those same children sleep in late and enjoy lazy days for about a week (if we were lucky) before they were booooorrrrreeeed and wanted to dooooo things. And sooner than we might care to admit, we’d be just as quickly counting down until the end of summer and when those joyful creatures would be back in school and out from under our feet.

Now, it feels like we’re living in the movie Groundhog Day, except we’re still waiting for that magical day when all is again normal and steady and right. And our kids are experiencing that same degree of every-day-is-Monday that we are. With no real distinction between two weeks ago, when it was summer vacation, and this week (or the weeks to follow) when it’s back to school time, this is a back to school season like no other we’ve ever experienced before.

Your children may sit in a brick and mortar classroom, but more likely not. At a press briefing earlier this month, DoDEA shared that approximately 25 of 50 U.S. schools would be opening fully remotely and that while they’ve gone to extensive lengths to get children back in the classroom, the situation will have to be fluid. A positive COVID-19 test and you’re looking at a 2-3 day closing to completely sanitize the school before returning the children. And DoDEA is clear that they may potentially be closing and opening schools repeatedly as necessary.

For children registered for school in their local communities, decisions about how children will go to school vary from district to district. Plans include everything from a physical return to school with precautions in place, to hybrid learning, to fully virtual/remote instruction.

Whether DoDEA or community schools, chances are pretty good that if you’re responsible for children – you’re likely going to be responsible for at least a chunk of their education. And while there may be savings in terms of bypassing those expensive backpacks, lunch bags, and new wardrobes, there will be additional expenses to consider –  like making sure your home is fully internet-ready, setting up a study-friendly “work zone” for your child(ren), or stocking up on your own cabinet full of school supplies.

But you’ve got this! You’re used to chaos and unpredictability. You’ve already done your share of hurry up and wait instructions and “just kidding” orders that change or catch you by surprise. And back to school time, even in a global pandemic, has got nothing on pick-up-your-whole-life-and-move-it-to-another-place every couple of years.

So deep breaths and let’s dig in with how to survive this back-to-school COVID-style thing.

To get where you’re going, you need to know where you are. Whether you’ve already shopped for school goods or you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to cover an added expense, your first step is to assess your current situation and create a budget. This is a judgment-free zone, and this isn’t about beating yourself up about anything that may have happened thus far. You’re just getting a clear sense of your total money picture.

Need a head start on creating a budget? MilCents is a free, self-guided financial program that will help you understand your current financial situation, create a budget, save, invest, and more.

Do your own homework first. Before you start spending on school-related stuff, take advantage of a wealth of free resources.

  •, brought to you by the American Academy of Pediatrics, provides a variety of COVID-19 specific information.
  • Common Sense Media helps you “navigate social distancing and school closures with quality media and at-home learning opportunities for your kids.”
  • Military OneSource offers the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Digital Library and a wealth of other information to support your military family too.

Many educational companies are offering free or low-cost programs during the pandemic – a tremendous help whether you’re planning a curriculum of your own for your kids, looking to supplement what the school provides, or trying to understand how new math works.

Do you belong to your local library? Then you have access to free books, movies, and games. Google is your friend and is more than happy to provide ample lists of things to do, lessons to learn, and more.

If you’re venturing out, make sure to check first to see what’s open or closed and whether there are any special COVID-related requirements to take into consideration.

Tap into your network. As part of the military community, you are blessed with a larger than average network – those folks you’ve met along the way and the ones who live in your computer but would help you in a second. And each of them has been the one offering help or the one asking for it in one season or another. But nobody is helping anyone if they don’t know you’re having a rough time. So, ask for help with what you need. Extra school supplies? Creative ideas? Someone to be the only adult conversation you have all day? Ask and ye shall receive. You have the BEST support system on the planet right at your phone or fingertips!

Speaking of help…Military aid societies exist because they too recognize that none of us are immune to life’s challenges. Whether it’s Army Emergency Relief, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, the Air Force Aid Society, or Coast Guard Mutual Assistance – there are grants and no-interest loans to qualifying servicemembers in need of assistance with meeting basic needs. If you would benefit from these – use them. If not, bookmark them so that you have them if you one day do or you’re speaking with another military family who could use some help!

Learning’s not just for the kids. Take advantage of this strange time to build your own skills. MilCents is a social learning program created to empower military families in personal finance. No matter what stage of your military life you’re at, there’s customized information available in a self-guided format. The FINRA Investor Education Foundation offers an entire library of resources on everything from goal setting and financial planning to investing.  (And lifelong learning is a great example for your kids to emulate too!)

At the end of the day… Your kids don’t need a Pinterest-worthy school experience. A we-have-what-we-need school year is all your kids require. And with the right tools and information, you’re perfectly situated to deal with these less than perfect times.