Money editor mum’s budget back-to-school tips

By mid-January the long summer school holidays seem to drag.

But then I remember the kids will be back at school in a couple of weeks. And it’s not just for another term.

It’s a new year and with it comes the expense of everything from socks to staplers.

Some schools even provide a list of items that students must bring with them. So here are a few tips for keeping costs down as you send them off for another productive year of education.

Set a budget

It sounds obvious but most of us never set a proper budget.

Maybe it’s because when you look at the statistics for how much money you’ll need to raise your kid to the age of 18 you would crawl under a rock and cry.

According to the NATSEM (University of Canberra) Income and Wealth Report, it will cost a typical middle-class Australian family $812,000 to raise two kids from birth to adulthood – and this number is rising.

If you choose to educate your child at a private school the numbers are even more alarming.

ASIC’s is a great place to start if you’ve never done a budget before. It even has a specific section for children’s costs.

It’s a useful way to plan everything from babysitting and childcare to school uniforms, fees and excursions.

Make a list

Once you narrow down exactly what your child needs for school (rather than what is the latest ‘hot’ thing to get) make a list and stick to it.

All retailers offer back-to-school specials in January and are keen for your dollars.

Officeworks, for example, offers a Parents Price Promise for Back to School supplies, which means if you find an identical stocked item on a quoted school list at a lower price and they’ll beat it by 20%*

Look online before you head to the shops and you might save shoe leather, time and money.

Uniforms don’t have to be uniform

Before you shell out for new uniforms check to see if you can squeeze them into last year’s.

Then don’t head straight to the official uniform outfitter before considering alternative options.

Check to see if the school has a clothing pool and try to get in early to find the best secondhand threads.

If your school doesn’t have one, try websites like Gumtree and School Xchange. Many public schools have simple uniforms these days with a coloured polo shirt for boys and girls. Why not head to Best & Less or Kmart for basic uniform essentials to supplement the official school sanctioned versions.

“Don’t feel pressured to buy expensive brands – for example, you could save $50 for each pair of shoes (school and sports) – that’s a $100 saving. Look at buying cheaper brand socks, shirts and other school accessories too,” says Miles Larbey, ASIC’s Senior Executive Leader for Financial Literacy.

Label everything!

It sounds cliche and nanny state and you probably ignore teachers and schools when they tell you this but, from a money-saving angle, it makes enormous sense.

The simple fact is, if it has a name on it, it is more likely to be returned and you won’t have to shell out for a replacement.

There are plenty of online stores selling colourful fun labels for everything from shorts to shoes and drink bottles but you can spend a fortune only to have them washed down the drain in a matter of weeks.

A permanent marker works well for everything and there are even colourful versions available at Officeworks. Even if they wash off (as they do especially from lunch boxes) you can keep writing the name back on.

Packed lunches

Most parents bemoan the daily ritual of making packed lunches every day but the cost of making it yourself versus using the tuckshop every day is a no brainier, not to mention the nutritional benefits are also greater.

Buy a sturdy lunch box. The zip-up insulated ones seem to last better than hard plastic versions divided into sections. They get kicked around the playground so much you’re probably better off spending a little more here to find one that will go the distance as, let’s face it, you don’t want to be doing this again in the Easter school holidays.

Save the lunch orders for those days or weeks when you are really time poor or to use as a treat or reward.

Plan ahead

Even if you send your child to a state school for their entire school history, it is still an expensive exercise.

ASIC’s Larbey says preparing for the start of the school year could be a good time to discuss family budgeting and spending and ASIC’s MoneySmart has resources to support families in their discussions about money.

Last year Australian Scholarship Group found that the cost of educating a child born in 2014 will be at least $64,000 in the public system and up to $489,000 for a private school.

The earlier the better when it comes to savings, but even if your child is already in high school, it’s never too late to start saving or investing for their (and your) future.

There are many ways to save depending on your appetite for risk. If you have a home loan, saving into an offset account is a great idea as it will instantly bring down your interest costs which is more valuable than getting one or two percent in a savings account.

Shares are also a good longer term option but if you don’t want the risk there are managed funds and investment bonds you can add to regularly and watch them grow.

Just think, even if you don’t need all the money for the kids you can spend it on a well-deserved holiday after you have finally got them through to the end.


This article was written by Emma Blake, the editor of moneysaverHQ. 

*Offer is only applicable on prices that appear on valid 2016 school book lists for the quantity listed. Valid on identical stocked or Officeworks-deemed equivalent items where identical products are not available. Excludes competitor out of stocks, categories or items not ranged and items available only for customer order at Officeworks. Cannot be used in conjunction with Officeworks 5% Lowest Price Guarantee.

Officeworks also offers a free school list service – drop it off online or at your local store, the team will pick and pack it for you then message you when it’s ready.