With just a couple of weeks to go until the children go back to school, most of us are now making those necessary purchases in preparation.
So as parents and carers across the country set off for the shops to buy uniforms, bags, stationery, sports kits and tech for the new academic year, covering the costs can put a real strain on family finances.
According to one study, we spent a staggering £1.48 billion last year getting our 8.5 million children ready for the start of term. This equates to £174.31 per child. Another recent report showed that one in five parents is forced into debt to cover school costs, with three quarters of those questioned considering the outlay as a financial burden.
School uniform and shoes make up the majority of expenditure. Add in everything else, and the costs quickly creep up further.
With the an average two children per family – and our spending during the summer increasing by over £150 a month anyway – this warm weather really should come with a financial health warning.
But back to school kit doesn’t have to be costly. There are lots of ways to make cheaper choices and budget better. Here are eight of our top tips to keep the costs down and earn top marks for savviest back to school shopping.
#1 Shop at supermarkets
Regardless of a school’s uniform policy, there is no real reason to buy everything from a specialist shop, which are always much more expensive than the high street.
Just buy the logo sweatshirt or cardigan from the official supplier and plump for plain shirts, dresses and all of those other essentials from standard stores. Lidl is selling a full school uniform outfit for just £4.50. Available for children aged four to 12 years old, it includes a two pack of polo shirts, a sweatshirt and either a pair of trousers or a skirt. Aldi’s ‘bargain bundle’ is coming in at £5 and Morrisons at £11.50.
#2 Consider cost vs. quality
With prices like these, 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 more expensive and hardwearing garments. However, experts stress that you should never try to scrimp on school shoes as this could damage little feet forever.
#3 Second-hand school uniform
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.
#4 Deal sites
Take a look at cashback websites that award bonuses for buying online. Sites like TopCashBack have back to school hubs that offer up to 11% back on Clarks shoes, for example, and over 7% back on George school wear purchases from Asda.
#5 Ask what’s essential
Speak to your school and find out which items on the back-to-school checklist are absolutely compulsory. Also ask other parents and carers.
You’ll no doubt find that there will be many others who aren’t buying everything on the uniform list. 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 one up?
#6 Buy a size bigger
The average child grows over 6cm and gains five to seven pounds each year. It therefore goes without saying that it makes sense to buy a little big now as 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 make repeat purchases in a matter of months.
#7 Iron on badges
Many schools sell fabric logo badges that can be sewn onto lower priced blazer from a generic store or supermarket. They’re a much more cost-effective option when shopping savvy for September.
#8 Look out for local and national support schemes
There are lots of local, regional and national schemes in place that help parents to pay for school uniforms and trips.
In Wales, the new Pupil Development Grant (PDG) has recently been introduced, which replaces the old School Uniform Grant which ended in April this year. The £1.7million Government fund offers parents the opportunity to claim £125 to help with the cost of school uniform and sports kit.
And in Scotland, a national minimum school clothing grant has recently been set at £100 in a move designed to relieve back to school pressure on some 120,000 families across the country.
There are lots of community initiatives out there on a local level too, including uniform banks and swaps. Keep your eyes peeled online, on social media and in local venues and newspapers for those near to you.