It’s been more than twenty years since I’ve gone to school, and yet every August without fail, I have classic back-to-school anxiety dreams: There’s a big test and I forgot to study. I can’t remember my locker combination. I’m in gym class — naked.
Sound familiar? Turns out back to school season can be just as stressful for parents as it is for some students. A slew of recent surveys show parents are increasingly anxious about back to school shopping costs, getting kids ready and out the door on time, screen-time, busy schedules, homework, and bedtime, among many other nagging concerns.
While new technology might be to blame for some of the stress — like kids playing Fortnite when they should be doing homework — it can also provide fantastic fixes for some of our biggest daily dilemmas. Case in point: I asked more than 1,000 parents on Facebook for their best back to school tech-life hacks. Here’s what they said.
Buy New Tech For Less
Many of the most desirable tech gadgets on the market come with a $1,000 (or more) price tag. But there are a handful of sites that deliver the biggest and best discounts right to your eyeballs, with very little work on your part. One Facebook mom said she used DealNews to find the $124 8-inch Huawei MediaPad T3 tablet on sale at Amazon. What she liked about that deal, aside from the price, is that “it seems like a solid tablet for my son who needs a basic device mainly to read and do research. I also like the smart app access that gives me some control over what he’s doing online.”
The “Right” Refurbished
The other “buy new tech hack?” Shop refurbished. Every gadget manufacturer has a web page that offers refurbished models of its most popular tech. Google “refurbished Mac” and you’ll find a host of Apple gadgets like the 2017 MacBook Pro in space gray for just under $1,100, which is a $200 savings. Word of caution though, make sure you’re buying from a reputable and certified vendor that restores each gadget to its original condition versus using cheap third-party parts. Back Market is a website a few people mentioned for finding quality refurbished electronics that includes warranties and live customer service.
Go Old-School to Save Money on Kids Phones
There’s also no need to fork out several hundred dollars on a smartphone for most pre-teens and teens – when a $60 feature phone will do. A handful of parents said they’re opting for basic handsets like the colorful 3G Nokia 3310 to let kids call, text, take photos, and use a few basic apps. Parents also gave it high marks for a nearly indestructible body, all-day battery life, quick charging time, and 27-days of standby time.
Don’t Buy When You Can Borrow
One father on Facebook wrote that one of his go-to hacks is an app called Epic that gives you instant access to more than 25,000 books, audiobooks, and DIY videos for ages 12 and under. The cost for full digital access is just under eight dollars a month, and you can try it for free for 30 days. “My kids were instantly involved and reading on the app. You can barely buy a book for the price of having thousands [at your fingertips],” one mom replied on Facebook.
Student Loan Life-Saver
Another point several parents made is that money stress doesn’t stop when your kids get out of school either — this is the time of year many students and parents are worrying about student loans. For that, free online tech tool Credible.com is a go-to hack. “I graduated with 106 thousand dollars of students loan debt,” 28-year old Jared Davis told me over the phone. “Right out of school, my monthly payments were more than 1,000 dollars per month.” Davis says the site is similar to Expedia, but for private student loans. “It was great to compare multiple lenders side-by-side without sharing my personal data or impacting my credit score. I’ve saved about $16,000 by refinancing so far.”
Earn College Credits At Home
The ever-rising cost of college came up several times in parents’ top hacks. A typically college course can set you back over $2,000 at a public college, and well over $4,000 at a private institution. “One way to save is to take as many college courses as you can online and then transfer them,” wrote 49-year old David Mountain via Facebook DM. Mountain uses a site called Study.com. According to the site’s College Accelerator page, it offers around 150 popular college courses that most students have to take anyway, but at roughly 1/10th of the normal cost. The credit is transferable to more than 1,500 top colleges and universities.
Alexa to the Rescue
Several parents also mentioned smart-home gadgets. “I hate to say it,” wrote Tim Kicmol on Facebook, “but, we have 3 [Amazon Echo] Alexas and 2 Amazon cameras. We use the [Echo] Alexa as an intercom system to talk to the three boys from our bedroom. When we are really tired we instruct Alexa to read a story to them. The cameras are used to confirm the boys are staying in their rooms at night.” Also on Facebook, dad Matt Hemmert adds, “Alexa. She (yes we call her she) is fully integrated into our thermostat, yard sprinklers, room lights, comic relief, timers, shopping lists, schedules, etc. At this level of stickiness, I don’t know if we’d be able to “unsmart” our home. Also, something we’ve started using as well is grocery store apps to place and pay for orders and then just go pick up. My wife loves it because it means she doesn’t have to venture in with our two littlest monsters in tow and it eliminates impulse buying.”
Join (or Start) a Social Media Parenting Group
Since I picked up all these hacks thanks to social media, the last hack here is to remember that information and empathy are often as close as your computer. “My parent-network in real life is about 12 people,” mom of three and parenting author, Lisa Heffernan tells me over the phone. But with her Facebook group, Grown and Flown Parents, “I have about 88,000 people to run things by.” There are thousands of well established social media parenting groups to choose from, or it’s easy to start your own. Heffernan says to remember the rules of engagement, like keeping comments respectful, no politics, selling stuff, or bullying. Kind of like real life — the stuff you’re supposed to learn in Kindergarten and all that.
Never Forget Your Locker Combo Again
Christine Burke, the Assistant Editor of Grown and Flown Parents shared this one: “My favorite hack solves the anxiety related to remembering the locker combination. Take an inexpensive rubber bracelet (like the LiveStrong bracelets or anyone at a Dollar Store) and write the combo in black sharpie on the inside of the bracelet. It’s discreet, it’s simple to wear and when they’ve memorized their combo, they can just toss he bracelet! I’ve been doing this with my kids for years. Also works if you have a garage code or an internet passcode that kids are having trouble remembering!” YouTuber Tiffany Ma saves her combination as “Mr. Number” on her phone to keep from forgetting the combination to her locker.
Find Out How Long It Will Take You To Read A Book
Students in a big time crunch might find this one super handy: A website called HowLongToReadThis.com actually estimates the time it will likely take you to read a specific book. And it’s very accurate, in our tests anyway.
Too Tired To Proofread An Essay?
Rather than relying on your tired eyes to do the heavy lifting, paste your essay into Google Translate, and hit the speaker icon to listen to it. This helps pick up on any minor typos and improve your sentence structure.
Other Tech-Life Hacks We Found Searching Around the Web:
Got a Tech+Life Hack?
We would love to hear from you. What are some of your top back-to-school tech-life hacks for saving time, money, and most of all — sanity? Be sure to let us know in the comments section.
More from our Facebook pages:
“Teamsnap app. As a coach and parent, I don’t know how we survived without it. And my iPhone stopwatch. My little guy still falls for “Let’s see how fast you can run a lap around the inside of the house?” – Jake Rivas
“Grocery delivery – Instacart | google calendar to keep all of us on the same page | google sheets to manage carpools | scheduling music through Sonos.” – Kacie Wise
“My family uses the Bring grocery shopping app. We have a list for our house, our boat, and cabin. Everyone can contribute so if someone wants me to not forget something they simply add it to a list.” – Elena Tuason Verlee
“Google doc for carpool organization. Signup genius for organizing parent things. Teamsnap owns my life.” – Becky Worley
“All above plus ParkMobile, Starbucks to go, caviar food delivery, GameChanger (follow live games I miss), Sign-up (for all school volunteer), Instacart.” – Jen Ancho Rivas