Goodbye, Summer holidays; hello, new school term!
BY AL BAKER | LAST UPDATED 15TH AUGUST 2023
The school summer holidays are drawing to a close and the new school year and new term is coming up fast, and it's a time of anticipation and excitement for students and parents alike. However, it can also bring a financial burden as you stock up on essential supplies for the upcoming academic year. But fear not, as we've compiled a comprehensive guide with useful tips to help you navigate this annual challenge and give you some great ideas on saving money. Whether you're a seasoned back-to-school shopper or a newcomer, these top tips are designed to help lower your costs during this cost-of-living crisis.
Start Early and Plan Ahead
Keep your eyes peeled for sales, discount codes, and special promotions. Retailers often offer back-to-school deals that can help you snag items at a fraction of their original cost. Subscribing to newsletters and following stores and brands on social media can keep you informed about these great deals. Starting your back-to-school shopping early is a strategic move that can significantly impact your budget. By planning ahead, you give yourself ample time to research, compare prices, and take advantage of early bird deals. Avoid the last-minute rush that often leads to impulse purchases and higher costs. Whether you're buying clothing or other school supplies, you'll often find back-to-school supplies on sale in stores as soon as the schools have locked the gates at the end of the last school year!
Parents fork out an average of £337 a year on school uniforms for each secondary school child and £315 a year for each primary school child!
Having a school uniform policy can help reduce peer pressure at school for the latest clothes and help children feel settled in the learning environment, but they can be costly for parents! Schools are now required (this is a 2021 law which states that all schools must adhere to by the new term in summer 2023) to help keep costs down by taking steps to remove unnecessary branded items and allowing more high-street options, such as supermarket own-label uniforms. It’s up to individual schools to set their own policies; they may even decide that they don’t want a uniform. Whatever they decide, their policy should make it fair for all. It will inevitably vary, but fundamentally no school uniform should be so expensive that it leaves pupils or their families feeling unable to apply to, or attend, a school of their choice due to the cost of the uniform.
If your child's school has a uniform, inquire about uniform exchange programs. These initiatives facilitate the swapping or purchasing of used uniforms, allowing you to save on clothing costs. Schools do have a duty to make second-hand uniforms available and accessible for parents and carers. Your school may offer second-hand clothing directly or via their PTA (Parent Teacher Association) advertise local, established second-hand uniform schemes. Whatever the method, schools should ensure that current and prospective parents and carers know how they can get hold of it by publishing details on the school’s website.
You can often save money on uniforms, and PE kits by looking on Facebook Marketplace for cheap second-hand clothing, often free, as children outgrow clothing and parents look to make sure old clothing can be used by others. It's worth joining parent Facebook groups for the school your children attend, if they have one, as often you'll find parents offering older uniforms for swaps or free. You may also find that local charity shops might also have some uniforms, so it's worth looking at. Many supermarkets and clothing stores offer discounted school uniforms from the end of July, as do stores such as M&S, so it's well worth buying early to save the most money; discounts are usually between 20% and 25%. These savings typically end around mid-August, so it's best to be as organised as possible to save the most money! That said, there's also an argument for waiting until after the school holidays and the kids are back at school as it's not unusual for a retailer to then try and clear out what uniform they have left, and you can really benefit from the low prices you can then buy uniform for! In the past, I've bought my daughter's school blouses for £1 each, generic PE kit items for under £1, and even school shoes for £5, which saved us a fortune!
Some schools now offer iron-on logos for a low price, meaning you can then iron the logos onto cheaper clothing to avoid paying an excess for having to buy clothes through specialist shops with the logos already added. I've heard stories of people taking a school logo and going to the Fiverr website, having the school logo reproduced and then going to Etsy or other online stores and having iron-on badges made so they can just be ironed onto cheaper clothing. Personally, I think that's a genius way to save money, but my view is that all schools should be supplying iron-on logos for parents at cost price.
You can see the best-performing primary schools across England and view the league tables for primary schools to see which schools locally may be worth looking at for your child to attend if you are unhappy with your child's current school or are moving to the area. Generally, the better the school, the more likely they will be to assist parents when it comes to helping out with school uniform cost issues.
No matter where you buy uniform from, the most important purchase is a fabric pen (Amazon do a pack of 8, all different colours for less than £5) or personalised name labels you can write/iron onto your child's clothes! I guarantee your child will lose an item of clothing at some point or come home with the wrong jumper etc., and by investing in a means to make sure your child's name is easy to find in the clothing, it'll save you a fortune on buying replacements!
When it comes to uniforms, buy bigger! You always see kids with rather large-looking clothing on the first day of school, and unless overly large, this is a good thing as it makes sense to buy slightly larger clothing as you can be sure your child will grow within weeks of returning to school; I'm sure they do it on purpose!; and so by buying slightly bigger, you avoid having to buy even more uniform as they grow into them!
Children's shoes are expensive! It's always a toss-up between buying the more expensive new school shoes from stores such as Clarks or buying cheaper shoes from supermarkets or discount clothing stores such as Primark. Either way, it's better to make sure you get your child's feet measured properly, (You can buy Clarks feet measuring devices, called a gauge, for £10, which is useful to have and is available for both toddlers and children), to make sure that shoes properly and again buy a slightly bigger size if it's not going to impact on comfort and being able to walk properly! I know my daughter was always bought slightly larger shoes at the start of term, and by half term, they fit perfectly, and when kids' school shoes can be £50 a pair, you don't want to have to buy more in a couple of months!
Reuse and Repurpose
Before you dive into the world of back-to-school shopping, take a moment to do an inventory check and check your home for any existing school supplies that can be repurposed or reused. Items like school bags, packed lunch boxes, water bottles and even stationery may still be in good condition, saving you money on replacements. Can you re-use any of the current school uniform you have already, perhaps an older child's old uniform? Can you get hand-me-downs/second-hand uniforms from friends or family? Often by having a good clearout and checking what's already in your child's wardrobe, you may find you have plenty of clothing you can use for school, which will help keep costs low. How about stationery, do you really need to buy a whole new supply of pens and pencils or can you make do with what you have already? Have a 'tester challenge' with your kids and try out each and every pen to see what still works and what doesn't, and then when you know what you have that's usable, decide if you need anything new or can stick with what you have! If you do need some new stationery, don't buy big branded pens etc.; just because they are expensive doesn't mean it's any better than the cheaper options you may find in your local supermarket; you'll often find the bigger brands are expensive as you're paying an excess amount to pay for the brands advertising and for the brand to pay the supermarkets or other retailers for displaying their products in prominent positions in stores, or for including the brands in back to school deals/offers - yes brands do pay for this, and it isn't cheap!
Create a List and Stick To It!
Creating a well-thought-out list is your compass to a successful and cost-effective shopping spree. Make a comprehensive list of school essentials and stick to it. This will prevent you from making unnecessary purchases and help you stay focused on what you actually need and also, don't take your kids with you if possible; I guarantee they will wear you down asking for the big brand items or the inflated price shiny pencil cases, or lunch boxes with their favourite cartoon character on the box, this will save you a lot of money!
The power of comparison shopping cannot be understated. Before making a purchase, compare prices at various stores and online retailers. This simple step can result in significant savings, allowing you to get the best value for your money. Allocate time to do this! Don't do this spur of the moment; make sure you set some time aside to properly investigate the cost of what you need at different retailers, especially more expensive items such as computers. Use comparison sites such as Google Shopping or Trolley to check prices before you buy; the prices can be staggeringly different when demand is high! Opt for generic or store-brand items over pricier name-brand products. Store brands often provide comparable quality at a more affordable price. Remember, it's the functionality and durability that matter most, not the label.
Utilise cashback websites and apps to earn cashback on your purchases. These platforms provide you with a percentage of your spending back, effectively putting money back in your pocket, and when your spending is potentially a lot of money, the savings can add up. Examples would be using sites such as TopCashback or Quidco when buying online or using cashback gift card sites such as JamDoughnut or the Mad About Money Discount Club to earn cashback on gift cards that you can use in high street stores and supermarkets, or if that sounds like a faff, make sure you're using apps such as Airtime Rewards or Cheddar as you'll then earn cashback from participating merchants automatically when you use your debit/credit card, without having to think about it first; super useful for those dreaded impulse purchases!
Embrace Bulk Buying
Consider purchasing items in bulk to save money in the long run. While the initial investment may be higher, buying in larger quantities can lead to substantial savings, especially for items you know will be used throughout the school year. This is particularly the case if buying stationery. It's worth seeing if other parents want to come into the purchase with you and split the cost by buying larger quantities. Buying from bulk sellers can often mean you are buying at the wholesale price rather than retail. I've heard stories of whole classes joining together to make a bulk buy and saving a fortune, with goods even being ordered from overseas and shipped to the UK, which is still far cheaper!
Discount Store Treasures
Don't underestimate the value of discount stores when hunting for school supplies. Shops like Poundland, The Range and B&M offer a wide range of affordable items, from stationery to backpacks. Exploring these stores can yield surprising finds and discounts, but again it's always worth comparing prices, especially with supermarkets.
Buying Technology For School
My daughter left school a few years ago now, so I'm not so up to date with what technology kids need at school these days, especially at secondary school. I read a social media post recently where a mother said she had just spent £560 on going back to school items, including £325 on uniform and £206 on a Chrome notebook that he was expected to have! Ouch! It seems that the child's school expects the children to have this device to help aid their school work! Clearly, technology has moved on, as has the requirement that children must have it; by the time my 6-year-old son reaches secondary school, I wonder what he'll be expected to take with him? I thought I was the bee's knees when I had a scientific calculator (which I never figured out how to use), so clearly, tech has advanced, as has the cost to parents. It makes sense that if you also have to supply school children, college students or university starters with technology, and you're going to struggle to pay full prices, take a look at refurbished tech instead of buying brand new. High-street stores such as CEX may be a good option. Buying refurbished tech online is, of course, an option. My recommendation is to buy from a company that also has physical stores, such as from Currys, who do sell refurbished products, and this is because you then have somewhere you can take the tech to if you do end up having an issue. This can be especially important with university students who maybe be miles away from home and have a technical issue, and a Currys store will likely be closer than having to drive all the way home to get it sorted or have to mess around with couriers who may not be able to work collection around lecture times! Amazon has its Amazon Warehouse, which offers some of the best deals on refurbished tech, and decent customer service if you do get an issue!
If buying new, then needless to say, use a cashback site to earn some extra money! Many stores, such as Apple, work with Unidays and Student Beans and offer exclusive student discounts on tech, which can save a small fortune. You can also get free Microsoft Office 365 if you are a student or educator. If your child is too young for these kinds of deals/sites, then an option I've used is to use Very for buying tech. If you apply for credit for the first time through Very, you can claim a 20% discount off your purchase, plus use a cashback site to place an order. I did this recently on a £399 purchase and got £79.80 off the product plus £10.64 cashback via Topcashback as well, so an £87.44 saving in all, plus 12 months to pay for it in, interest-free, which really helps! Sites such as Woucher usually offer tech deals when kids head back to school/college/Uni as well.
Get Financial Help
Some parents may be able to get help with free school meals/school dinners and even a school uniform grant of up to £200.
Your child will be able to get free school meals if they’re in a government-funded school and in:
An older child may be able to get free school meals if you get any of the following:
income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
income-related Employment and Support Allowance
support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
the guaranteed element of Pension Credit
Child Tax Credit (provided you’re not also entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual gross income of no more than £16,190)
Working Tax Credit run-on - paid for 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
Universal Credit - if you apply on or after 1 April 2018, your household income must be less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits you get)
Sustainability and Giving Back
As the school year progresses, remember to recycle or donate any old school supplies that you no longer need. This environmentally conscious approach reduces waste and allows others to benefit from your generosity.
The back-to-school season doesn't have to be a financial strain. By following these useful tips, you can make savvy decisions, save money, and provide your child with the tools they need for a successful academic year. As you embark on your back-to-school shopping journey, remember that informed choices and thoughtful planning can make all the difference in your budget and peace of mind.