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$970 GONE: 5 ways to cut back to school costs

Lucy Dean
·5-min read
Australian school kids, Australian cash. Images: Getty
It's nearly back to school time. Here's how to save. Images: Getty

The average Australian family plans to spend $970 on school supplies per child this year, up 12 per cent on 2020 figures, but some families will be forced to fork out even more.

Australian families spend the most on school uniforms ($180) followed by school shoes ($111), stationary ($92), school bags ($58) and lunch boxes and water bottles ($43), BIG W’s latest Back to School report found.

Additionally, families will cough up for devices like laptops, tablets and headphones, with the devices becoming increasingly necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic and remote schooling, adding $284 on average to the bill - an increase of 17 per cent.

However, some families are set for an even more expensive few weeks.

Families with children starting at a new school are set to spend an extra $319 on expenses than parents of children attending the same school as last year, taking their spend to $1,165. Families with children starting at the same school will spend $845 in comparison.

Extra costs throughout the year

High school student using an electronic device or tablet style computer for research learning knowledge or research. Theme of classroom teaching teacher pedagogy educate and education with modern contemporary information technology IT.
Image: Getty

Kylie Gorski has three children in high school. She estimates she’ll spend $6,985 on her three kids’ schooling this year, including school fees and camps.

Her kids attend state school, however it’s not their local so the family spends extra for bus passes.

A single-income family, Gorski told Yahoo Finance she budgets for school expenses by putting away $150 a week. That comes to a total of $7,800 over a year, which leaves her a buffer of $815 for things like school photos and other expenses that pop up through the year.

“This year has been costly as my son starting year 7 is a completely different body shape to my other two kids, so I have had to buy a whole new set of uniform from scratch for him,” she said.

Aussie parents’ tips for cutting costs

Members of the Facebook community Mums who Budget & Save told Yahoo Finance how they plan to cut costs on back to school.

Use and re-use

A number of school bags back packs leaning against a brick wall with lockers blurred in the background. School yard, playground, high school eduicational facility. No students
Image: Getty

Gorski doesn’t throw away any unused stationery and contacts her kids’ school books as well, to help them last longer.

“This year we only needed new exercise books, one pencil case, pens and pencils.”

Gorski said reusing the same English novels for textual studies helps, especially given her school has chosen to study the same novels for a few years.

“Also look to purchase any texts or novels second-hand,” she suggested.

“The schools have a pretty good idea what will be required for the following year early in the year so start looking on Facebook pages, etc. all year.”

Shop around

Mum of three primary school-aged kids Lorrae Briscoe said her tip is to not assume the school’s preferred supplier has the best deal, noting that by shopping for items herself, she saved $100.

Gorski also said it’s important to shop around for goods, noting that while a $0.50 difference might not seem much on an exercise book, it adds up.

She saved $55 on her son’s advanced maths calculator by shopping around.

“Also check that your booklist doesn’t double or triple up on items without you knowing. Some subjects have the same items and if you’re not careful you can order three rulers or five USB sticks!” Gorski said.

Gorski also did the maths and found that by purchasing year-long bus passes, it works out to be cheaper than paying for individual fares.

Misha Rodwell said she uses Officeworks’ school book list service. She estimates she’s nearly halved the estimated cost for school supplies. Fellow parent, Emma Hughes, said she also doesn’t purchase through the school and prefers to buy her goods from Officeworks.

Mum of three high school and three primary school-aged children, Carmen Miller, said she buys her kids’ school shoes off savings website Catch of the Day to also get a better deal.

BIG W’s head of everyday and home Mitch Armitt said it is possible to do an entire back to school shop for under $200.

“Whilst Australian parents are expecting to spend more this year on getting their kids back to school, we know that household budgets still remain tight, which is why we've been working hard to bring families great value with quality items from less than $1,” Armitt said.

“In fact, at BIG W, it's possible to get all your school essentials for less than $200 including stationery, lunchbox, water bottle, school bag and uniforms.”

Label items and teach kids the value of their belongings

A student in uniform distracted holding using and watching a mobile phone during a lesson at high school. Books, tablets and pencil cases all visible on the desk and work space.
Image: Getty

Simple acts like labelling all items means lost goods will be more likely to be returned, while Gorski also believes investing in a good quality school bag will pay dividends.

Each of her kids has had one primary school bag and one high school bag each, and she’s taught her kids to look after their belongings.

“While they can be expensive to purchase compared to Surf Shop brands they definitely outlast and outperform. The kids have expensive books [and] technology in their bags all the time and these items need to be protected and school bags are made for this purpose.”

Wait for the discounts

Amanda Kenwright plays the long game: she buys generic goods on clearance once school goes back for the following year. That way she picks up pencils and crayons for as much as 50 per cent off, while scrapbooks are also significantly cheaper.

Plan ahead

Forward planning is key, Gorski said.

She suggested those who are struggling financially figure out what their finances look like, and then get in touch with the school.

“You will be surprised how understanding and accommodating they can be,” she said.

“Keep a list this year of everything you paid for so you have a realistic budget for the following year. Divide that total by 52 and save that amount each week in a separate account labelled School. Even saving $10 per week will give you $520 before the start of next year.”

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