Counting the Costs

Reading Time: 4 minutes

How to stop the back-to-school bills from sending you broke!

It’s a horrible reality. So soon after the Christmas knock to the bank account, the back-to-school ads hit the airwaves.

We could just switch off the telly and ignore it for a while, it would probably do us all some good, but sooner or later we’ll need to face the music -the very expensive music- the kids need new gear.

A recent report conducted by Big W revealed that parents could shell out an average 13 percent more this year in back-to-school and other school related costs. In dollars, the report estimates that’s a bump of about $538 per student – nothing to scoff at.

That horrible reality?  School is simply getting more expensive for parents.

Why? Technology, for starters. According to the same report, NSW families in previous years were already spending an average of $514 per child on school uniforms, shoes, and equipment. When you add technology and devices that number can jump by around $238 per student, often more.

Crunching the numbers. Getting the kids back to school is more expensive than ever!

The good news – we’re here to help.

Top Tips!

Here’s 9 tips we’ve found that can help ease the burden, make things a little easier and most importantly, save you your hard earned cash.

1. Only buy the essentials and learn to spread the cost.
When it comes to your uniforms and gear for the backpack – only buy what you need. Don’t buy a uniform for every day of the week, instead buy a few full sets and commit to doing the washing more often. Leave out the warmer clothes until the weather changes.

2. Go for hand-me-downs
Most school uniform shops sell very serviceable second hand uniforms at much reduced prices. If you don’t have older kids with uniforms that don’t fit anymore, try asking parents with older kids at your school if they have any second-hand items they can hand on to you. Kids grow quickly, so buy shoes half a size larger than they need right now, and skirts and shorts in the size up.

3. Label everything.
Putting your child’s name on every single uniform item is important as it means it will be returned to you if they lose it. Make the label as large and obvious as possible so if it accidentally gets taken home by another child, the parent will quickly see it’s not their child’s.

4. Go shopping without the kids- and without Dad.
If they aren’t with you, they can’t guilt you into buying a fancier notebook and glitter pens. If possible, let Mum do the shopping, not Dad.
Sorry fellas, but research done by the American National Retail Foundation found men spent 25% more than women when they did the back-to-school shopping. It’s Dad’s turn to look after the kids, Mum is school shopping.

The sign on the kindergarten classroom door at St Paul of the Cross Primary School says it all: The sky’s the limit for children beginning school across Sydney and the state this week. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

5. Keep stationery cheap.
The kids won’t like this one, but let’s be real for a moment- they’re going to lose their pens. More often than not that flashy pen you got them at Typo is the first thing lost or forgotten about. When you do need to top up, get your stationery cheap and in bulk from K-mart or a dollar store, and only after having a good look around the house to make sure you actually need it.

6. Make Lunch orders a once-a-month treat.
Packed lunches take time and effort to make, but they are a whole lot cheaper, especially when there are multiple kids involved. Search catalogues for good deals on lunch and snack items, and make meals in bulk if you can.

7. Make Costs Chore-Based.
This excellent piece of advice from Jacqueline Curtis at Money Crashers. Curtis says if your child shows interest in various extra-curricular activities, ask that the fees associated are earned around the house. Instead of just handing over the cash, make sure your child learns the value of hard work to earn the privilege of taking part. Assigning a few chores, some extra babysitting, or outdoor work can help relieve the burden while helping your child learn the importance of earning things that cost money.

8. Find out what’s optional.
Sometimes, the papers sent home with the kids make it seem as though the donations and money that the school is asking for are mandatory when, in fact, they are not. When in doubt, send an email to your child’s teacher and ask if an expense is completely mandatory or if it’s optional.

9. Ditch the guilt.
Another gem from Jaqueline Curtis, if you want your experience with a school to be a positive one, it’s important that you prioritise and stay stress-free. Sometimes, that simply means politely declining a parents association assignment, a call for donations, or an activity offered through the school. If you like, offer an alternative that you’re more comfortable with, but don’t feel guilty that you don’t have the money for every little activity, drive, and expense at school.