Back to school expenses often hit at a bad time for many families.
Christmas has been and gone, the presents unwrapped and the toys and gifts no longer bringing as much joy as they did when opened on Christmas morning.
But now money needs to be found for back to school expenses.
These are some of my tips for easing back to school the frugal way.
Stock up the fridge and freezer with lunch box items
Those supermarket snack foods are expensive – and many of them are loaded with too much sugar, salt and fat. Get into good habits this term and start off right. Here are a few of my favourites:
1. Cheese and vegemite scrolls. They freeze well, and you most Aussie kids love vegemite.
2. Cheese and crackers. Who needs those dippits? Well, my kids love them, but they are expensive, result in a lot of unnecessary waste and they don’t contain a lot of cheese. Buy a big block of ALDI cheddar cheese and cut it into cubes and serve with biscuits or make your own spread from grated cheddar and cream cheese.
3. Banana and Weetbix muffins. These are also good for adult lunchboxes; not all make it into my kids’ lunch offerings.
4. Homemade yoghurts. These are much cheaper to make than commercial yoghurts and contain much less sugar. I like to flavour mine with jam or keep it to simple vanilla flavour. You can freeze these so that they are soft and refreshing by lunchtime.
DIY school stationery
It is unlikely that your child will have used everything from the year before. It is also possible you can get better bargains than the school suggested package if you shop carefully.
Some online stationary platforms also offer cashback through CashRewards or ShopBack. Note: this is a task for parent or grandparent with time on their hands.
You can save money this way (one parent I know estimates she saves around $25 per child), but you may need to consider if the costs justify the time spent.
Buy uniforms early
At my kid’s primary school, we can buy any type of shorts and trousers so long as they are black.
The best deals are usually at Kmart, Big W and Target.
But they sell out quickly – or at least, I find that every year certain sizes sell out quickly. For some odd reason school uniforms do not tend to make a reappearance later in the year (or at least they become harder to find).
Balance cheap uniforms with ethical considerations
Many of the cheaper school uniforms are cheap for a reason – most are made in Bangladesh or other countries where there are poor labour standards in textile manufacture. My kids’ primary school is leading the way with fairtrade uniforms.
The green shirts the children wear are made ethically.
Yes, it costs more but if it makes it unaffordable there are still ways to reduce – such as buying second-hand.
But not everything can yet be purchased this way and in our case, we still have limited choices when it comes to shorts, trousers and sports day shirts.
Source second-hand uniforms where possible
Does your school have a second-hand uniform program?
At my sons’ school, lost uniforms are sold for $2 a piece with money raised going to support the school. If your school doesn’t have a second-hand store, consider starting something.
Or start a Facebook group for the school so that you can connect with other parents.
You could also make friends with people who have kids that are bigger than yours and hint that you are always happy to receive hand-me-downs. Note: it always helps if you like the people you want to befriend.
Label all your kids’ items
First day of school my eldest son lost his new lunchbox. It happens. Kids get distracted or other kids decide they like something.
School uniforms are easy to go missing as they all look the same. Invest in a label printer or buy pre-printed labels for clothes.
Gift items that can be used for back to school at Christmas
A plain lunchbox might not be exciting, but what about one with your child’s favourite cartoon character of the moment? Or a home sewn book bag for library books? My kids got undies from Santa this year, and as they had received many more presents, they were still excited by their present.
Buy ALDI school shoes
Quality leather school shoes can be one of the most expensive parts of a child’s school uniform.
In January, ALDI often has school shoes on sale. These sell quickly, so if you need a certain size get in early. Also check out Costco, Kmart and discount shoe stores for quality shoes.
Who said your kids need a new backpack each year? Or a new pencil case? If items are perfectly fine, reuse them. This saves the environment and saves your wallet.