Making Savings on the Back to School Cost
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It’s surprising how quickly the cost of a new school year can add up. Here’s some advice on how to keep the bills manageable.
The wait is finally over. The summer holidays are reaching their end and soon all those stressful days out, enlisting every extended family member for childcare and the constant complaints of ‘I’m bored’ will be replaced with the normality of school runs, packed lunches and homework. Sure, it’s going to take longer to get to work in the morning, but at last, they’re out of the house!
But when it comes to getting the kids ready for the school year, it’s amazing just how quickly the costs can add up. It’s not just books, pens and the ever-increasing price of school uniform though. It’s all the football boots and hockey sticks, the trombones and violins, and the new designer coats and bags - because they can’t risk being seen with last year’s schoolbag, can they?
And the classroom is subject to global trends as well as peer pressure and playground politics. As more and more of our day-to-day lives become digital there is an increasing requirement for our children to have their own computers, tablets and even smartphones.
Making sure our children have everything they need - and some of what they don’t - can put a real strain on finances, but with a little planning, we can meet the cost without overspending.
Create a list
Take the time to write a list of all items your child needs for the start of the academic year. Some schools will provide a list of essential items so it’s a good idea to check their website or contact the school before you start shopping.
Creating a list of every item of school uniform, noting how many of each you need and how many you already have is a good starting point.
Shopping starts at home
Now you have an idea of what your kids need it’s time to check the wardrobes. Get your child to try on everything from last year – if it still fits and is in good condition that’s one less thing you need to buy! Don’t throw out the uniform that’s too small though. Check with friends and family with children at the same school, and look on Facebook for local trade groups that sell or swap clothing – remember yours aren’t the only kids who need a uniform and you may be able to pick up some items yourself! If there’s no such group consider creating one, or there are many “cash for clothes” organizations which will buy unwanted clothing by weight - As long as it’s in a wearable condition you can sell it.
Also, check around the house for stationery that can still be used – last year’s pens and paper still work this year.
Set a budget
Check receipts and statements to see how much you spent last year, and see if you can spend less. If your kids are old enough perhaps involve them in this process so they can learn how to budget themselves in the future.
Shop clever and look for promotions
It’s unavoidable that certain items of uniform – such as those with a school crest - will have to be bought at specialist stores who don’t have to be competitive with their prices. But that doesn’t mean you have to buy everything there. Standard items such as skirts, trousers and shirts can be bought cheaper elsewhere and many stores including supermarkets run special back to school promotions on these items.
Look out for multi-buy discounts or 2-for-1 offers on clothes. Not only will you save money on laundry by having spares, but if your child doesn’t need two skirts or pairs of trousers you could buy one in a larger size and save money next year!
You could be missing out on big savings by not considering buying online. Sites such as Amazon and eBay offer many items you may be looking for at extremely competitive prices, and sometimes with free postage.
When buying more expensive items such as electronics and sports equipment many retailers will match or even beat the price of their competitors, so it’s always worth comparing prices online and taking proof of the best price with you to see if they will give you a deal.
Is it Must-Have or Nice-to-Have?
If it’s not absolutely essential for the start of the term then maybe it can wait until later when you have the money.
Does your child really need an ultra-high-spec laptop just to use the web and type up a few assignments? Consider buying something cheaper or buy refurbished to make huge savings in your budget. If they really do need the higher end machines then manufacturers such as Apple offer special education pricing plans for students.
There are many websites and online communities that trade in used textbooks, but it’s important to check your child doesn’t need a specific edition. You could also sell last year’s books to raise funds for this year. Larger charity shops are also great for books.
After school activities
Having to buy sports equipment, instruments or pay for lessons can be extremely expensive, but there are ways to cut the cost. Ask family and friends if they have a kit you can borrow or check online for local second-hand equipment.
Remember that your child could lose interest in the activity so if it’s possible to pay weekly or monthly instead of up-front you won’t risk losing too much money. Also, check if taster sessions are offered for free before you commit.
Occasionally despite our best efforts overspending and going over budget can be unavoidable – especially when the expense is an unanticipated one-off event. In such a situation a short-term microloan could help cover the cost in the interim.