Seven ways to save on back-to-school shopping


No sooner is Christmas out of the way than it's back-to-school shopping time.

While some school expenses are unavoidable, there are ways in which you can save.

Here are seven tips to save on going back to school.

how to save money on back to school shopping uniforms shoes school bags lunch boxes books stationery

1. Get in early

Many of us have experienced empty supermarket shelves caused due to supply chain issues plus panic buying. The same is true of certain back to school products.

If your kids need school uniforms in a particular style or colour (e.g. navy shorts or trousers), don't wait until the day before you go back to school to find them; they will probably be all gone and there is no guarantee a new shipment from overseas would come quickly.

Avoid spending money on petrol by trying to find the elusive items by shopping early.

Plus many stores run discounts in early to mid-January to get people to buy back to school supplies early.

2. Order online

Rather than trouping around a shopping centre during COVID, order online.

An advantage to this is that if the preferred colour or size of an item is not available in-store, they will find it from another store and send it to you.

Another perk is that you can utilize cashback products such as Cashrewards.

3. DIY kids book packs

Most schools will have a list of stationary or textbook requirements, which is often referred to as a book pack.

Often, schools will have a preferred online supplier so all you have to do is signup and pay by a certain date and the pack will go straight to the school. This is super quick and easy - and will only take five to 10 minutes (once you find the form hidden at the bottom of a school bag or in your email spam folder).

But you can opt to DIY. A big advantage of DIY is that you can reuse functional things that your kids have from the year, like pencils, rulers, scissors, maths sets, pencil cases and unused exercise books. Reusing these items makes sense from a sustainability and a savings point of view. I did this one year and saved around $20 for two book packs.

The big disadvantage is that the return on effort isn't huge. While the benefits are worth it for people on a tight budget or with multiple children, for most working parents, curating a book pack can be another energy-draining chore at a time of year when work is also busy.

4. Embrace second-hand school uniforms

My kids have proudly worn second-hand school uniforms for years. Some have been gifted to me, and most were purchased from the school as a fundraiser.

I'm often surprised by the reticence of some parents to go second hand. As a parent, I want my kids to look clean and tidy when they go to school.

But I also want them to feel that they can run around and play without worrying about getting their uniforms dirty. Think Maria in The Sound of Music, making play clothing from curtains for the von Trapp kids; they had much more fun when they were wearing something they didn't have to keep clean.

If your school doesn't sell second-hand uniforms, start a Facebook group to swap and sell, or suggest a second-hand shop as a school fundraiser. Or make friends with families who have kids who are older than yours and politely ask for their old uniforms.

5. Reuse school bags

Unless it is broken, your kids do not need a new school bag just because it's the start of a new year.

Big tip: make sure your kids remove their stuff - including uneaten bananas and sandwiches - on their last day of school.

6. Say no to cute school lunch boxes

It's the time of year when you get inundated with options for lunch boxes.

Although I predominately work from home, with a fridge only metres away from my desk, I find myself longing for a new insulated lunch bag with cute designs on it, with boxes inside configured like bento boxes.

If lunch boxes for you and your family from the year before are still working, don't replace them just because you see something nice.

But if you are in the market for a new lunch box, make sure you buy something sturdy with containers you will use. A gel cooling bag to keep food cool in summer is also a great option.

7. Educational supplies

Like most parents, I want my kids to do well at school. And it's tempting to invest educational materials to help them ace NAPLAN or other tests. But your kids don't need most of this stuff.

They will just think of it as pressure and most of the material will go unused. One exception is a times tables chart placed somewhere visible like the back of the loo door or on their bedroom wall.

But other than the chart, focus instead on the school curriculum. Help make learning fun to encourage your offspring to develop a life-love of learning, through working with your teachers and taking an interest in your children's work.

And if you model respect for learning, your kids will develop this as well. For instance, if you like reading and regularly go to the library, your kids are more likely to take an interest in reading rather than you forcing them to read.

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Serina Bird is a proud frugalista who has amassed more than a million dollars through frugal living. She is the author of several books including The Joyful Frugalista and The Joyful Startup Guide. Serina blogs at The Joyful Frugalista, and her podcast is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. She is also the founder of The Joyful Business Club. Her new book, How To Pay Your Mortgage Off in 10 Years is out now!