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Back to School Looks and Feels The Same (Sort of…)

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While a lot has changed over the past few months, and this season of back to school looks different for a lot of families, there are quite a few things that are still very much the same. It’s funny how so much can change and yet, you find moments where you know this same thing would be happening if circumstances were different. I thought it would be fun to go ahead and look at the similarities and differences of this school year’s start to previous years!

Similarity #1 Morning Stress

For example, there is still a morning struggle even if we don’t even have to leave the house because we are doing distance learning. There is still someone who wants to go as slow as possible, or someone who tries to skip breakfast or someone just in a really bad mood. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have to don shoes and walk to school, or wait for a bus, we literally have to get to the dining table and have our Chromebooks powered up and ready to go. I mean, it should be easier, right?!


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Difference #1 Way Less Quiet

Okay, this is a given considering I have 3 kids doing distance learning and there’s no physical place for them to go. Yes, I can send them to the backyard or to their rooms – trust me, this has been done already. What I mean is that gone are the days of them going TO school and coming home to a silent and empty house. It used to be that I came home, made my coffee and could just sit down without any noise or interruptions. I could start the laundry, I could catch up on my DVR’d shows, it was a blissful time. Then we made the decision to have them stay at home and poof, what does quiet even mean? 

Similarity #2 Expenses

You would be wrong to think that by staying home you’d have less school supplies to purchase. So very wrong. We still have to have the traditional items like notebooks, folders, pencils, markers, colored pencils, etc. We also have to consider things like Chromebook cases to prevent any scratches (they are loaned to us by the district). We had to get a surge protector not just to plug them all in to but because we needed all the cords to just be able to reach where they wanted to sit! We also purchased foam presentation boards to use as dividers to give each kid their “space” when focusing on tasks (to reduce distraction). Everyone still grew too, so naturally shoes and clothes. So in-person vs. distance learning still has its expenses!

Difference #2 Watching Them “Get” It

If they were in school, I wouldn’t get the opportunity to see them “get” new skills. I wouldn’t get to see Gavin work so hard on writing paragraphs (something he struggles with). I wouldn’t see how much they actually retain, the things they love, what makes them annoyed with school.  Sure, in previous years I’ve HEARD about these things, but it’s different when you actually get to see it in person. It makes me see how smart, creative, and fun they are and how they are just going to keep growing and learning and someday everyone will be off at college.


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College is actually WAY sooner than we realize – we have a 15 year old who is a high school freshman. Should he choose to go to college of some kind, that could be as early as fall of 2024. That’s a scary thought, guys. That means we have just under FOUR years to figure out how much we can financially help him and what he will need to do to secure his educational future for himself. Will he seek scholarships and grants? Will he reduce his course load based on what he can afford? Will he choose a community college (which will cost less and is the more likely choice) and find a program he actually enjoys so he doesn’t have to take MORE and spend more?

It’s the thoughts like this and realizing that once he’s off on his own we then have TWO who will graduate high school at the exact same time and be off to college. Come through, scholarships, come through! If they don’t, we’ve already started our research on how we can contribute financially to their goals. It’s never too late – in our case we have just under four years and then a big gap in between. Some parents start at birth, others wait until their child is older. 

With the Cost of Waiting tool from Ohio’s 529, you can play around with the numbers to see how much you can save with the timeline you have. Here’s a look at what I plugged in given that we have four years. If you have some schools in mind, you can actually input their name into the tool to get more accurate numbers – which is kind of crazy, honestly. I didn’t realize the cost of community college in our area so I spent time just looking at those!

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If we plug in numbers for Gavin and Haley, which I went with 9 years, you can see the massive difference! Then of course, I remembered the tool is showing you the amounts for one child and I about had a heart attack.

That’s okay though! The money that goes into your 529 plan does not have to come just from parents, it can be gifted by grandparents, etc.! They can make contributions at any time for any reason (birthdays, graduation, milestones, etc.) and if your child gets a job and agrees to save towards school, you can add it to their 529! 

When it’s time to actually use the funds from the 529, you can use them ANYWHERE. You aren’t limited to just in-state, so if your child has their heart set on a college 800 miles away… the funds can be used there. 

It’s also worth noting the benefits of a 529 plan vs. opening a traditional savings account to save for college. Parents who put their money into a traditional savings account are leaving serious saving potential on the table. Consider this scenario: In 17 years, 4-year in-state tuition and fees might cost $115,000. If you plug the average federal tax refund for Ohioans – let’s say $2,539, which was the average for Ohioans in the 2018 tax year – into Ohio 529’s College Savings Planner for 17 years, you’re projected* to be able to cover 79 percent of tuition and fees by investing that refund in Ohio’s tax-free 529 plan, versus only 38 percent of tuition and fees if deposited into an everyday taxable bank account.

*Assumes growth rate of 6% in the 529 plan and a bank savings interest rate of .09% as reported by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis 1/2020. Also important to note that this is only a projection, and individual results could be lower or higher, much like mutual funds in a 401K plan.

So while where we are schooling right now, in 2020, is different, the goals for the future are the same – happy, healthy and thriving children going off to higher education and proud parents who aren’t going bankrupt to make it happen!

I encourage you to look into Ohio’s 529 Plan for your child/ren. We can’t control everything around us, but this is something that we can do and start right away. We might not know what the school year will look in a few months, but if our kids are college-bound, we will do what we can to make it happen!

Be sure to visit my Instagram – I’m hosting a sweepstakes to give one lucky parent a $250 College Savings Award to start their child’s 529 Plan off right! All the details are on Instagram on how to enter (hint: you’ll want to explore that Cost of Waiting tool I mentioned)!

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