Back to school costs

One minute the summer holidays are just getting underway, the next you're thinking about getting the kids back to school. But before that day arrives, the inevitable school shopping must take place - and that means spending some money

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According to the Money Advice Service, the average parent expects to spend £180* per child in the back-to-school period, which includes buying books, uniforms, stationery, meals and snacks. And the list doesn't end on the first day back, once you consider the price of school trips and after-school clubs among other things throughout the year.

Many parents will find themselves dipping into savings to cover these essential costs, or over-spending in a last minute panic. So how can you avoid breaking the bank before the first term?

Top tips to avoid overspending

Clearly, anything you can do to avoid drawing on savings or racking up debts is to be welcomed, and the positive side is that there are many money-saving tips and tricks to drive down the amount you end up forking out. Use the back to school calculator at the bottom of the page in combination with the tips below to plan your spending and keep costs down.

  • Make a list of what you need to buy and stick to your budget. Also, take your child with you when you go shopping, so they can appreciate the cost of buying their new clothes, kit and accessories and, hopefully, look after them.

"It's worth finding out what is absolutely needed (and what your DC will actually wear). My DC's school provides a very detailed uniform list that I spent a fortune on for my DS1, only to find out that most items are 'encouraged' but not 'compulsory' (eg blazer, football/hockey boots, black no visible logo shoes etc)."

  • It's worth buying clothes a full-size larger than required. Your child will soon grow into them. You can even push the boat out and buy trousers that are a couple of sizes too big (particularly for younger children) and sew the hems up.
  • Don't forget to use the school's network. You don't always need to buy from the official school uniform provider, which can prove expensive. Many schools host clothes swap shops where you can buy trousers, jumpers or shoes that other parent's children have outgrown.
  • "Our school has a second-hand store for families who might not be able to buy new, I don't think it is very well advertised so worth asking about."

    • Keep an eye out for sales throughout the year - such as those offered by supermarkets - so you can buy clothes for when they grow out of them or ruin their current clothing. Take note of multi-buy deals, too.

    "School uniform shops in the last weeks of the summer holidays are hell on earth - I REALLY would not go near them then. Plus, if there's anything you can't get, you've got no time to source from elsewhere."

    • Consider making a packed lunch for your child. A sandwich, some fruit, a drink or water will see them through the day and help you control their calorie intake. It's also well worth getting your child to help make a packed lunch. If they've had a hand in the preparation they're less likely to bin it in favour of a bag of sweets.

    "Copy the leading branded lunchbox ideas but substitute your own healthier versions. Get mini-pots of cream cheese and do your own 'sticks' of veg or toast. You can even buy a cartoon-branded container to rival the supermarket marketing ploys."

    • Give your home a pre-school spring clean. Your child will get through a vast number of pens, pencils and paper - all items you probably have stored away in various drawers. You could save a fortune just by gathering all the stationery you have squirreled away.
    • Don't follow the crowd when it comes to technology. Your child's school friends may have the latest smart phone, but there's no reason you should buckle under pressure to provide one for your son or daughter. If you want to give them a mobile, choose a pay as you go model so they can appreciate the cost as they use it.

    "I think DD was 10 (Year 5) when she got her own phone. There was a huge blitz through credit for the first few months and mostly forgotten since. Giffgaff is fab for teens. I just buy cheap handsets on eBay for my DC, pay as you go. Any phone you choose needs to be very lightweight in my experience."

    • Build up an emergency fund. No matter how good you are at budgeting, you can rely on the need to find more money at short notice. School trips are a key cost, that can be unexpected.
    • The school run can cost a fortune. If you have one, it's worth seeing if you can team up with other parents in your neighborhood to shuttle your children to school on a rota.
    • Keep things cheap. Don't overspend on expensive lunchboxes, bags, satchels and other items that are quite likely to be lost of damaged before long. Will they really notice the difference?

    Money Advice Service
    This content was provided by the Money Advice Service. All information accurate at time of publication.

    *All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 9,434 adults of which 980 were parents of children aged 4 - 11 attending primary or middle school. Fieldwork was undertaken between 24th - 30th June 2014. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

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Last updated: about 4 hours ago