Reducing back to school costs

Save on school costs

The cost of sending kids to school can add up quickly. Not only are parents and carers faced with paying for uniforms, bags, shoes, stationery supplies and school fees, there are also lunches, excursion and transport costs to consider.

Here are some ideas to help prepare and save for the school year ahead.  

Save on school uniforms

If a uniform is required for your school, here are some cost effective ways to buy school uniforms: 

  • Buy the essentials - Don't aim to buy a uniform for every day of the week, instead buy a few full sets and commit to do the washing more often.
  • Spread the costs - Put off buying warmer clothes until the seasons start to change.
  • Second hand uniforms - Most school uniform shops have very serviceable second hand uniforms for sale at much reduced prices.
  • Talk to other parents - Get to know parents with older kids at your school and ask them if they have any second hand items they can hand on to you.
  • Family hand-me-downs - If you have a few kids at the same school see if you can hand down some uniform items to younger siblings.
  • Labelling is essential - Putting your child's name on every single uniform item is important as it means your child's uniform will be returned to you if they lose it. Make the label as large and obvious as possible so if it accidentally gets taken home by another child, the parent will quickly see it's not their child's.

It is a good idea to create a budget and work out your school expenses. Be sure to include extra costs that might come up during the year, such as excursions and project supplies. This could be a good opportunity to teach your kids about the importance of budgeting. 

Create a budget and factor school expenses into your spending.

Budget planner

Save on school stationery and supplies

Here are some things you can do to help reduce the costs of school supplies for your kids:

  • Check what you already have - Search through all the desks and kitchen drawers in your home and collect the stationery you already have. Then when you hit the shops you'll only buy the items you are missing.
  • Go early but look for sales items - Start shopping early for school supplies to avoid the queues and get what you need, rather than just what's left but also remember that some retailers put leftover school supplies on clearance. Keep an eye out for these and stock up.
  • Avoid impulse buys - Stick to a list or go shopping without the kids so you won't be tempted by them to buy more items than you need.
  • Don't buy into expensive stuff - Knowing that they might be lost or trashed, aim for cheap but durable stationery supplies that will last, rather than brand name items. Look to shop at discount stores, supermarkets or bulk stationery stores known for good prices or price matching.
  • Labelling saves you money - Be sure to clearly label everything your child takes to school as it will save you in the long run as the items will come back to you fast if they get lost.
  • Set a limit - If your kids are older, agree on a budget with them so they can choose what they get and at the same time learn a life lesson about budgeting and managing money.  

Save on food and transport costs

School lunches

Be prepared each week by planning school lunches. Keep an eye on catalogues to get good deals on lunch and snack items, and make meals in bulk if you can. Again, be sure to use cheap but good quality containers that last and label everything. 

Transport costs

If your child is catching public transport to school, make sure you apply for a valid concession card for cheaper fares. 

If you live in a remote area and your child cannot get public transport, your State or Territory will provide a scheme to offset the costs of getting to school. Here are details about different schemes:

Video: Teaching kids to be money smart - managing money

Video about teaching kids about pocket money

David and Libby Koch provide some tips and advice about helping your children manage their money and teaching the value of earning pocket money.

This video was developed in partnership with the Koch family and Father Chris Riley's  Youth Off The Streets.

Government assistance with school costs

There are quite a few assistance programs to help parents cope with the extra costs of school. 

Saver plus matched savings

Saver Plus is a program to help families on low incomes develop savings habits, and could help save up for larger school costs like fees and excursions. It helps you reach a saving goal and then matches it dollar for dollar, up to $500. Find out more about Saver Plus

Government assistance

Some financial assistance is available to families on a low income. Some are means tested or require parents to hold a concession card.  

National - Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme

Queensland - Textbook and resource allowance

South Australia - School Card Scheme

Western Australia - Secondary Assistance Scheme

Tasmania - Studies Assistance Scheme

New South Wales - Scholarships and allowances. Note these are only available to students who are forced to board or otherwise live away from home because they live in a remote area.

Back-to-school costs can add up quickly, especially if there is more than one child going to school. To save money, it's important to be prepared, shop early, and keep an eye out for specials and second hand items. The money you save could be put towards other things, like spending time together as a family. 

Related links

Last updated: 29 Mar 2018