School is still most definitely out for summer. But with the return to the classroom just a week or two away – and already underway in Scotland – many of us parents are already counting the cost of kitting our little ones out for the next school year. And for most, it’s putting a real strain on family finances.
A recent study shows that the annual cost of heading back to school has soared 36% in the past year – up from £855million to a staggering £1.16billion.
To cover such costs, a sixth of UK families say that they’ve gone without essentials – such as food or heating. It’s an increase from one in seven last year.
And it’s easy to see how this happens. Last year parents spent an average of £134 on school uniforms and shoes alone. It’s a collective £510million, which is up from 6% from £127 – or £395million – in 2017.
Add to this the cost of computer equipment at £220 and sportswear at £74 that takes the grand total £428 – a significant sting on already squeezed wallets.
But buying back to school kit doesn’t have to be costly. There are lots of ways to make cheaper choices and budget better.
Here are ten of our top tips to help keep the cost down.
#1 Shop at supermarkets
Regardless of a school’s uniform policy, there is little reason to buy everything specialist shops that are always much more expensive than the high street.
Only buy the logo sweatshirt or cardigan from the school supplier and buy plain shirts, dresses and the rest of the uniform from normal stores.
You can pick up uniform sets – polo shirts, sweatshirt, and skirt or trousers – cost from as little as £4.50 at Aldi and Lidl. Other major supermarkets such as Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s offer sets from under £10, with some high street retailers such as M&S and John Lewis offer uniform sets for under £22. Get lots more information on the best deals and places to buy here.
#2 Consider cost versus quality
With prices starting at £4.50 for a full set, buying the cheapest school uniform might feel like the best option at the time, but will they last, or will you end up having to buy again soon?
For those with younger children who can wear older siblings’ hand-me-downs, it may be better to invest in a more expensive and hardwearing garment. However, experts stress that you should never try to scrimp on school shoes as this could damage little feet forever.
#3 Look out for second-hand school uniforms
Let’s face it, a brand-new uniform won’t look new for long, which is why it’s such a good idea to shop second-hand. In fact, a third of parents recently surveyed said they had, or would, buy a second-hand school uniform – not only to save money but also to help the environment.
Many schools hold uniform sales where you can snap up almost-as-good-as-new items at bargain prices. If your school doesn’t, keep your eye out on Facebook for selling groups and check out local charity shops.
#5 Only buy what’s essential
Speak to your school to find out which items on the back-to-school checklist are absolutely necessary and which are simply recommended.
And ask around other parents and carers. You’ll no doubt find that there will be many others who aren’t buying everything. Again, there are often school Facebook groups for parents to share tips as well as buying and selling second hand stuff. And if there isn’t one, why not set it up?
#6 Buy a size bigger
The average child grows over 6cm and gains five to seven pounds each year. So, it goes without saying that by buying a little big now, you’ll child will soon grow into it.
Although this won’t save your money immediately, it does mean that you won’t have to buy again in a matter of months, which would be a real waste.
#7 Shop the sales
Many retailers run regular promotions of 20% – 25% discounts on school uniform – usually at the same time every year. If you know when a deal is likely to come, it can pay to wait.
#8 Just stick to the essentials
It’s easy to spend a lot on all of the likes of stationery, but most of us have pens, pencils, rubbers and the likes at home stuffed in drawers and boxes.
And when it comes to water bottles and lunch bags and boxes, opt for cheap and cheerful – they’ll be scuffed in no time.
#9 Go for sensible seasonal dressing
Short-sleeved shirts tend to be better for use all year round. Not only are they more comfortable, they’re easier for dressing and undressing and won’t get wet when washing hands. Schools also tend to be warm anyway and they have a school jumper. It’s much cheaper than buying different shirts for the different seasons.
#10 Make them last longer
And finally – it may seem obvious – stick or sew in name tags to all items. This is a great way of saving money as it means there is less chance of jumpers and other costly kit being lost.