How to save cash on back to school supplies and uniforms

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

Back to school costs can put a real strain on a family's finances and every year it seems to get more expensive.

In 2020, Aussie families are expected to spend an average of $538 per child on just school supplies and uniforms (a $62 rise on last year), according to YouGov's Annual Back to School Research Report commissioned by BIG W. And that's not even taking into account school fees and technology costs. 

But there are some tips and tricks to help lighten the financial load.

Uniform savings

Sydney mum of two and Finder's personal finance expert Kate Browne said where possible ditch the uniform shop. 

"If your kids attend a public school, chances are you'll be able to purchase their uniform for less at cheaper outlets like Best & Less, Target or Lowes," Ms Browne said. "You can also find good quality second-hand uniforms at Vinnies and the Salvos, as well as online through Gumtree and Facebook marketplaces.

"Often schools have a second-hand clothing pool for uniforms at bargain basement prices so be sure to check if your school offers this," she said.

There are also parent-run, school-specific Facebook groups where second-hand uniform can be found for free, or a fraction of the cost of buying new.

Parents may also offer uniform via the school's Facebook page, so it's well-worth connecting with the broader school community that way.

Canstar money expert and mum of two Effie Zahos said when buying uniforms and shoes, always size up.

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"If you are planning to buy new it may be worthwhile buying shoes half a size bigger than they need right now so they get more use out of them," Ms Zahos said. "The same could be said for uniforms, though you may need to hem them before they grow into it."

Also invest in a labeller as kids lose things all the time and having items labelled will save you money over the long term.

Look for deals

Kmart, Officeworks, Big W, Target and Best & Less are just some of the stores offering great back to school sales on uniforms, bags, lunch boxes and school supplies. And many shoe shops have discounts on school shoes and runners.

Father and Strategem partner George Zarpalas said uniforms and shoes account for almost 50 per cent of the average spend.

"Keep an eye on online resources such as Facebook pages and newspapers in your local area where uniforms might be advertised," he said. 

"Plan ahead and purchase larger sizes if you see them available." 

Ms Zahos said now was a great time to sell unwanted school items.

"Right about now there are plenty of buyers wanting to pick up some back to school bargains," she said.

"It's the perfect time to get on some Facebook groups, Gumtree or other buying and selling sites such as uniformexchange.com.au or sustainableschoolshop.com.au to make or save a dollar or two."

Save on school supplies

When it comes to textbooks, particularly at high school, you should be able to borrow some from the library and buy some second-hand. 

"If your children have reached high school no doubt they may be required to have the nominated publications for reading, including novels for English class or text books for particular subjects," Mr Zarpalas said.

"Encourage your child to keep their books in good condition so you can re-sell them." 

Ms Browne said you don't have to buy new things all the time.

"Despite what the kids think, stationery doesn't need to come with all the bells and whistles," she said.

"You'd be surprised at what you can wrangle from around the house - pens, highlighters and scissors can usually be found lying around in a drawer. 

"This can significantly reduce your stationery spend." 

Be strategic when you buy

Kids don't need everything on day one of term one – buy what you need when you need it. 

"There are a number of school expenses that are term or semester dependant such as hats, art smocks and winter uniforms," Mr Zarpalas said. 

"To ease the budget, plan for such items and purchase them when they're actually required. This allows you extra time to be keeping your eye open for second-hand items or sales." 

Ms Browne said it's best to stick to a list and don't shop with your kids.

"It's easy to give in to impulse buys at the checkout," she said.

"Write a list of all the supplies you need before heading out for the back to school shop. This way you'll avoid forking out for unnecessary items."

And when it comes to big ticket items, like computers, shop around and remember the preferred school supplier isn't always the cheapest option.

Mr Zahos said don't sweat the small stuff, instead concentrate on saving more on the most expensive items.

"You're better off using your time on bigger-ticket items such as computers, musical equipment or uniforms," she said.

"Saving $200 on your child's new laptop means more to your budget than saving $10 all up on exercise books or 10 cents on a sharpener.

"And when it does come to the bigger stuff, such as computers, it may be worthwhile considering your insurance options. If your kids are anything like mine and have dropped their tech, you'll be glad to know you're covered."

Keep a lid on food costs

So, you've got the lunchboxes but nothing to put in them – try buying school food in bulk, rather than getting individually packed snacks. Batch cooking baked goods like, scrolls, cakes and biscuits, will also save money. As too does packing your kid's lunchboxes with seasonal fruit and vegetables.

And get them a thermos so you can send them to school with last night's leftovers – delicious and cheap. Limit lunch orders to once per week or even monthly.

Ms Browne said it's important to be school lunch-savvy. 

"Look for upcoming supermarket deals on food and snacks," she said.

"It's also a good idea to make cheap and healthy meals in bulk so the kids can have leftovers throughout the week." 

Seek financial assistance

"Check your rebate entitlements as you may be eligible to receive money from your state or territory government, depending on your circumstances," Ms Zahos said.

In various states and territories, there's assistance programs in place for eligible families to help cover the costs of transport, camps and excursions, school fees and supplies, sport and arts activities, and boarding away from home.

Your school should be aware of what's available in your state and it should also have payment plan options in place for paying school fees.