Back To School: How To Shop School Essentials On A Budget

Back to school can be an expensive time for parents, what with school uniforms and the classroom essentials needed to kit out your kids before the term starts.

But by using some savvy shopping tips, it doesn't have to cost a lot.

According to Rachel Burrows from Netmums, school uniforms are one of a family’s biggest annual expenses.

She told HuffPost UK Parents: "Official figures show three quarters of state schools still place restrictions on where parents can buy a uniform – and parents are angry that some official school suppliers are a rip-off.

"The Office of Fair Trading found certain suppliers charge up to two and half times the price of the same item from a supermarket in 2014."

Sarah Crown, Mumsnet editor, added: "There is statutory guidance for schools on not setting uniform prices that will discourage parents on low incomes from applying, and non-statutory guidance discouraging single uniform suppliers - so write to your school's governors if you feel the guidance isn’t being followed."

Here are nine ways to keep down the cost of back-to-school supplies.

1. Shop at supermarkets.

Burrows said no matter what a school's uniform policy dictates there is little reason to buy everything from a specialist school shop.

"These are much more expensive than the high street," she said.

"Most mums recommend buying just the logo sweatshirts, cardigans and whatever the school insists must be logo-ed from the school shop and buying plain polo shirts, shirts and the rest of the uniform from generic stockists like Next, M&S or BHS."

Siobhan Freegard, founder of Channel Mum explained supermarkets can be a good bet for a bargain as they are currently locked in a "price war" to tempt shoppers.

She added: "Aldi are even offering an entire uniform for just £4."

You can keep up to date with the latest deals on school uniform using Money Saving Expert's thread, but Freegard warned for the best deals it is wise to shop now rather than the week before your child goes back to school.

2. Consider cost vs. quality.

Buying the cheapest school uniform might feel like the best option, but will it last?

"If you have younger children and want to pass the uniform down, it may be better investing in a more expensive and hardwearing garment that will last longer rather than a budget buy," Freegard advised.

The same goes for school shoes. She added: "Never try to scrimp on school shoes as you could damage your child’s feet.

"It's much better for kids to outgrow a good pair of well-fitted shoes than be uncomfortable and kick holes in a cheap pair."

3. Second-hand school uniform.

Many schools will offer uniform sales where you can snap up almost-as-good-as-new items at cheap prices, but if your children's school doesn't do this, Freegard suggests looking on Facebook for selling groups in your area or checking out local charity shops.

4. Deal sites.

Get deal-savvy by looking online at cashback sites which give you bonuses for buying online. Sites like TopCashBack are running back to school hubs where you can get up to £10 off the cost of a purchase.

Signing up free to the website will get you cashback simply by buying through the site - for example Clarks shoes are currently offering 11.4% cashback.

5. Work out what is essential.

Crown suggested asking the school what items on the back-to-school checklist are definitely needed.

"Some might be absolutely compulsory, and others will just be recommended," she added.

6. Buying a size up.

"Your child will grow into it," Crown said.

It might not save you money now, but it will in the long run.

7. Ironing on badges.

Joeli Brearley, founder of the campaign Pregnant Then Screwed told us: "For some schools you can buy the fabric badge and sew that onto a generic low cost blazer, which is a great way to save money.

"Also I am part of a brilliant Facebook group of parents where I live and we share tips just like these and buy and sell second hand stuff for children off each other - it’s a really supportive and friendly forum. If there isn’t one where you live then just set one up."

8. Don't splash out on the extra things.

Crown cautions it's very easy to spend loads on the "extra" items such as stationery by buyingeverything brand new - but have you got a lot of that already at home?

She said: "Have a good clear out before going stationery shopping; you’ve probably got rubbers, sharpeners, plastic wallets, colouring pens and pencils galore stuffed in various drawers.

"Go cheap and cheerful for lunch boxes, bags and the like; they’ll be scuffed in no time."

9. Sensible seasonal dressing.

Burrows added: "Short-sleeved shirts are often better for use all year round.

"They can be more comfortable for the child and much easier for dressing/undressing - as well as cheaper than buying different shirts for the different seasons."

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