Keeping back to school costs under control

Tips to ensure sending the kids back to school won't break the bank.
Tips to ensure sending the kids back to school won't break the bank. Photo: Getty Images

Coming off the back of Christmas and the summer holidays, the costs of getting the kids back to school can be the financial equivalent of the last straw. For many, the bank balance is already low, the credit card balance is already high and the school costs are more than we thought they would be. Last year the Australian Scholarships Group estimated the cost of a school year - excluding fees - for a primary school child attending a metropolitan state school to be almost $3,000 per annum. It probably won’t be less this year.

There are ways to save money though; this is the strategy that I use for my three kids:

Make a list. I make lists for just about everything in my life and with regards to back to school, it really does save me time, money and therefore stress. Having a list of all the different categories of things – books, clothes, equipment, lunchboxes etc - that need to be bought helps me to focus, prioritise and then save!

Lay out all the clothes from last year. Beyond the school bags, their clothes are one of the few things that can be carried through to the following year, so I lay them all out and we do a “fashion parade”. Fortunately with three girls, there are some hand-me-downs, but there’s still a lot to buy each year. Trying it all on, though, means that I don’t end up buying things that I don’t need.

Visit the school clothing shop. Many schools have a used clothing store and the items can cost a fraction of the brand new price. So any good-condition items that I can pick up second hand, I do. And with three children, it saves me hundreds of dollars.

Try to source extra-curricular stuff cheaper as well. My kids are the typical over-scheduled youth of today, with several after-school activities each. I try to source as much of their extra-curricular “stuff” as cheaply as possible as well. A “wanting to buy” notice on the school notice board, plus surfing eBay and Gumtree is worth doing. 

Take advantage of a booklist service. You’re much better off financially by spending time looking for big-ticket items than spending half a day shopping for stationary. Officeworks has a great school list service that takes less than five minutes, where you can either drop your booklist off at your local Officeworks or submit it online, they’ll pick and pack the items and text you when it’s ready or deliver it to your home. They also offer a Parents Price Promise, so it’s great value.

Label everything! I label pretty much everything except for undies and socks. Iron-on and stick-on labels save me a fortune each year.

If you need extra motivation to cut back-to-school costs, just think about a potential alternative: putting it all on your credit card. At current average credit card interest rates of around 17%, putting the back-to-school costs on the plastic and never quite getting around to paying them off means that you could end up paying hundreds of dollars in interest costs between now and the next Christmas holidays. That’s money that’s better off in your pocket.

Justine is a Mum of three and is  finance editor and commentator with research and ratings firm CANSTAR.