While we love the summer holidays for the time it allows us to spend with our children, the start of a new school term in September is usually welcomed by most parents. It means a little more free time and a lot less stress planning ways to entertain the kids all day. However, preparing your children to go back to school can often be costly and full of hidden expenses that haven’t been factored into the normal budget. This can cause cashflow shortfall for many families, making an exciting time for the kids a lot less pleasant for the parents.

Why should you try to reduce back to school spending?

Most people review their budget and choose categories like food, holidays or eating out to reduce spending and save money. But focusing on one area often leads to poor results. It’s either not possible to make a significant saving in only one area or the benefits aren’t felt soon enough, and we lose interest. Trying to save little and often in all areas of your budget is a much more effective way to save money. It usually means you don’t have to drastically change one part of your lifestyle – such as cutting out all takeaways – and means you can still enjoy the little treats every now and then. You’ll also find you create saving habits that become second nature; you’ll make better decisions with little effort and be better prepared for any potential unexpected costs in the future.

School Uniform Saving Tricks

Primary school uniform is often expensive, and kids grow out of it so quickly. The good thing is, you can often buy school uniform second hand which is much cheaper than buying it new. You can also save on school uniform costs by buying unbranded tops and skirts or shorts from supermarkets, instead of official uniforms from school wear shops. You may need a cardigan or jumper with the school’s emblem, but these can usually be found second hand, handed down from older kids or even from the school itself. Some schools rehome uniform donated by other parents for free or for a very small cost so it’s worth asking if you’re struggling to finance uniform throughout the year.

Secondary school uniform is often much more expensive than primary schools’, and it’s usually only the shirts which can be bought from general clothes shops or supermarkets. If you need a school skirt, it may be worth buying a bigger size and having it taken in. You can then resize the skirt each time it starts to get a bit small. With some school skirts costing upwards of £50 each, this could save a fair bit of cash – especially if you have more than one child. Trousers are a little easier to find cheaper with standard grey or black trousers being acceptable at most schools. Again, try contacting the PTA or the school reception as they may run a school uniform swap or second-hand sale at the start or end of each year.

Save on School Lunches

School lunches are another area where parents can innocently overspend. While we want to ensure our children enjoy their lunches, often they’re more focused on finishing their food so they can get on and play. In some cases, parents try to cater to their child’s preferences just a little too much. If they’re hungry, they’ll likely eat it. But to make the most out of your money when it comes to packed lunches, we’d suggest trying a few of the following tips:

  • Multi-buys aren’t always the cheapest. We usually think that buying multipacks will save money, but in some cases it’s actually cheaper to buy a bigger version and split it at home. For example, instead of buying apple juice cartons, it can be cheaper to buy a litre of apple juice and refill a small reusable bottle each day. It’s almost no extra effort and can save a couple of quid each week. You do need to check deals and prices regularly though because if the cartons are on offer, they may be cheaper!
  • Fill the lunch with fresh fruit and vegetables. Instead of trying to fill their lunchbox with individually wrapped snacks like crisps and biscuits, consider getting some smaller Tupperware or sectioned lunchboxes which you can fill with cucumbers, carrots and tomatoes. These are usually the most popular fruits and veggies, but grapes, strawberries and cut up apple (with a little lemon juice squeezed over the top to stop browning) work a treat too. You can also apply the multipack rule to the crisps and biscuits, so they still have their favourite sweet snacks but at a lower price to you.
  • School dinners may work out cheaper. Cooked school dinners might be cheaper than packed lunches, especially if you qualify for free school dinners or a subsidy. Contact your school’s reception for more information and to find out if you meet the criteria – it could solve your school lunch problems altogether!

School Transport Costs

For primary school children, school transport is usually a cost that can seldom be reduced. Often you walk them to school, drop them off on your way to work or have a childminder take them for you. Whatever way they go, there’s often little to be saved. However, when it comes to secondary school transport, things can start to get pricey.

While most areas have designated school bus passes, these are slowly creeping up in price. In 2019, Kent school bus passes rose by over 20% in one go. However, some families on low incomes can apply for subsidised passes and in London, most school children get discounted or free school transport. If your children travel by train, they may qualify for a train pass if you live within the school’s catchment area. Otherwise, there are railcards that can be used for school children which helps save that all important cash.

If your children are intending to drive themselves to school once they pass their test, encourage them to car share to split the cost of petrol among friends. You should also take into consideration the cost of general wear and tear of the car too: HMRC mileage allowance is 45p per mile for cars doing under 10,000 miles a year. However, as much as your children might be looking forward to driving to school, it might not be cheaper than an annual bus pass once you factor in insurance, fuel, services, and MOTs etc, plus the cost of the car itself! So don’t make a decision before you’ve factored in all the related expenses.

Practice makes Progress

School is inevitably an expensive 14 years but there are ways to reduce costs and reduce your dependency on small loans to finance school-related expenses. Whether it’s lunches, uniform or even school trips, making small changes here and there can have a huge impact on the amount you spend – especially if you apply good saving habits across all areas of your budget. Of course, saving up in advance will help you manage these costs. For example, if you know your child’s bus pass is £300, try to save £25 a month so that you have the funds ready to go when term starts in September. Splitting costs like this in advance of the due date can help you manage your money as you won’t experience such a drastic cashflow shortfall all at one time.

You might not become a financial guru overnight, and there will always be costs – including school associated costs – which spring up out of nowhere causing short term financial chaos. But the more you practice good money management and try to develop saving habits on a day to day basis, the better you’ll become at making your money work for you.