Millions of children will return to school this week and parents across the UK will be spending money to make sure their children have the uniform and equipment that they need.
However, at a time when families are experiencing the biggest drop in disposable income since the aftermath of the Second World War more than 60 years ago, the pressure on household budgets has never been greater.
Research published this week by Santander suggests that parents spend an average of £177 per child buying uniform and other equipment in readiness for the new school term.
So, how can you send your children back to school looking smart and with all of the essential equipment they need, whilst sticking to a budget?
Here are ten ways that you can help keep the cost down:-
Only buy what you need
If you are shopping on a budget then make a list and stick to it. Tempting though it is to buy other items that you can find, even for a bargain, avoid it.
If you are shopping with your kids then you need to work out a strategy for dealing with the extra requests for items not on your list. This could involve allowing just one small extra item or explaining to your children that anything extra has to be paid from their pocket money.
Go to the £1 store
For some items, such as stationery or lunch boxes, buying cheap is a good strategy. Pens and pencils can easily be lost and are more likely to be broken before the end of their natural lives, meaning replacements will be needed.
For these items it makes sense to not spend much and you can actually buy pencil cases and lunch boxes in man pound stores that are reasonable quality and kids themselves can jazz them up with their own stickers and designs.
Check supermarkets for bargains
Supermarkets such as Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s are often sources of cheap stationery as well as uniforms.
Some schools only supply certain parts of their uniform from local shops but local authorities have warned schools that they have a “moral responsibility” to keep the cost of school uniforms down in these hard-pressed times, so the cost, even from local independent stores should not be prohibitive.
Check stationers for sales
Stationery stores such as WHSmith usually have “back to school” sales in the week leading up to the start of the school term. Make the most of these and grab the bargains, but remember you don’t have to buy all items from these stores.
Make the most of the sales and then buy items that are not discounted from cheaper sources.
You can get bargains online for “back to school” expenses as well as for other items. High streets are struggling but online sales continue to rise. Indeed, only today, the British Retail Consortium noted that August saw the lowest ever increase seen in online sales.
They rose by just 4.8 per cent, but one of the reasons they are still rising in contrast to other areas is because low overheads means companies can offer bargains.
NCT nearly new sales
The National Childbirth Trust or NCT is the UK’s largest charity for parents and they hold regular sales where parents can buy good quality, used clothes, sporting equipment and other items for a fraction of the recommended retail price.
Manage your children’s expectations
Shopping with children can be difficult. There understanding of the importance of a budget is, naturally, not high and saying no is difficult.
Try and explain to them that you have to keep the cost down and offer them a treat if you manage to secure all of the items you purchase within budget.
Buy quality for longer lasting items
For some essentials it makes sense to spend a little more so that the items last longer and, in the long run, save you money.
In particular, school shoes can easily be wrecked inside six weeks in my experience. Buying one quality pair of shoes that will last until at least the spring makes sense, though as all parents know, trying to time this with the growth of feet to a new shoe size should also form part of your tactics when buying school shoes.
Use items you already own
Have a spring clean at home in the last week of the summer holidays and you are likely to uncover a number of items that you already own that could save you money.
This works particularly well for stationery. Most households have spare pens, rulers, calculators and even backpacks that can be used, saving you from having to buy new items each year.
Personalise budget items
Your children may want the latest branded pencil-cases or lunchboxes but you can buy a basic version and let t hem personalize it by using stickers and other items.