Back-to-School Tech for Your Children

It's increasingly common to find classrooms filled with the blue hue of computer and tablet screens. Early education or postgraduate work, there's a shift towards technology-driven, or at least technology-aided, schooling.

The need for a computer, tablet or other device can be costly for some parents. While students don't necessarily need the most cutting-edge technology, even basic laptops can cost hundreds of dollars.

Parents on a budget may be able to turn to the school itself for help. Some schools offer students free access while in class, others let students borrow or rent devices that can be brought home. Particular school districts even offer access or technology assistance programs for homeschooling families. However, if you decide to purchase, there are many ways to save money on necessary devices.

First though, you may be asking yourself why it's important that your student have access to a tablet or computer. Technology is becoming increasingly popular in the classroom and there are some important things to consider.

Changing how we teach students. Across the country, school district superintendents are signing the Future Ready Schools District Pledge and vowing to create and lead a culture of digital learning. There's also ConnectED, a federal initiative to ensure 99 percent of American students will have access to a broadband connection by 2018. Private partners have pledged to give over $2 billion worth of hardware, software, access to content and free wireless phone service to the ConnectED cause.

How might all this technology help today's students?

A study published in the January 2014 issue of the Computers and Education Journal found that high school students were able to understand abstract concepts of space and time better with 3D simulations on a tablet than with traditional teaching methods. Students that are computer literate and learn to use technology to stay organized, conduct in-depth research, and collaborate with fellow students can also use these skills in college and their professional careers.

What devices might students need? Laptops, tablets and smartphones are the primary devices that many students use. However, some students may also need a graphing calculator for classes or standardized tests.

Some schools have a one-to-one program and issue students a laptop or tablet that they can bring home. There could be a hefty cost to replace a stolen or broken device, but you may be able to pay for a protection plan with a lower repair or replacement deductible. Other schools let students borrow devices while in class, or let students bring their own device.

Not every school offers free electronics to students and even if yours does you may want to buy a device. The school-issued devices are often equipped with built-in internet filters and students may need to agree to only use the device for school-related activities. While the upfront costs of purchasing a device are understandably higher, you won't need to return it and it can be used during summer breaks and subsequent years at no extra cost.

Saving money when purchasing your own tech.
If you decide to buy a tablet, laptop, or graphing calculator, you may be able to save money by timing your purchase and comparing prices at several retailers.

Find discounts during annual sales. August can be one of the best times to buy a laptop or tablet because of the back-to-school sales. Some manufacturers release new models between June and August, meaning you could get an even better discount on last year's models. Another option is to wait for Labor Day sales in September. If you can find something to hold your student over in the meantime, you might be able to get a great deal.

Use retailers' outlets. Manufacturers sometimes offer older models, open-box items, and refurbished electronics for a discount at their online outlet sites. The product might even be as good as new, but can't be sold at full price because the box is damaged. Check back often because the sites frequently post new items.

Look for student deals. Some software companies and electronics manufacturers offer student discounts to high schoolers, while others restrict the savings to current or incoming college students. Research policies from manufacturers as well as online retailers. Compare them with your local stores' policies and keep these extra savings in mind when comparing prices.

Educational discounts for homeschooling parents. Homeschooling parents may be eligible for manufacturers' educational discounts even if their child doesn't qualify for a student discount.

Check for deals every day. You can check sites that post roundups of the day's electronics deals. You could also go directly to online retailers to see their frequently changing deals on computers and other electronics.

Shop at resellers. If you're looking for a particular type of tablet or laptop, search far and wide for the best price. There's no guarantee that buying directly from the manufacturer is cheapest. You might be able to get a better deal from another website or a brick-and-mortar retailer.

Trade-in old devices. Some retailers will give you store credit for your old cell phone, laptop, tablet, video game console, or other electronics. It's a good option if you have a device that's just gathering dust in a closet or on a shelf.

Buy used. Consider purchasing used electronics for deep savings. They may be older and slower than the latest model, but that's not always a problem. For example, some standardized test administrators forbid test takers from using some of the latest model web-enabled graphing calculators. You can find used items online, at garage sales, and in local Facebook buy/sell/trade groups. If there isn't a warranty or guarantee from a reputable company, determine the device's quality before making a purchase.

Always check for coupons and rebates. Whether you're shopping online or in a store, always check for coupons and discount codes. Researching the store's name plus "coupon code" will often result in a list of sites that'll show you latest codes. Also, search for the product's name plus rebate and you might find extra savings from the manufacturer or retailer.

Consider budget laptops. There are various affordable laptop options available for as low as a couple hundred dollars. Although these less expensive options may come at a compromise of performance or storage capabilities, they can be well suited for basic tasks for students.

Where you find the best deal can depend on what you're looking for, the time of year, and one-off promotions. Consider all your options and weigh the pros and cons of buying an older or used device.

Bottom line: Understanding technology is a necessity for many of today's students and professionals. Ensuring students have access to technology at home could help them excel at school, and may be a requirement at times. While some devices can be costly, there are programs and opportunities that can help you save money if you know where to look.

Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa's financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter:

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.