How to do your back-to-school shopping on a budget


COVID-19 has disrupted supply chains for everything from school uniforms to pencil cases, leaving many parents going store to store in search of school supplies.

If you're yet to start your back-to-school shopping, it may be worth jumping online first.

However you're doing your school shopping this year, here are some tips to save you money.

back to school shopping


While some say school uniforms can end up cheaper than buying branded fashion items, a formal school uniform including blazers, hats and jumpers involves a significant outlay. There are a few tips for reducing your uniform expenses:

While kids, especially younger ones, will often get dirty in the schoolyard they grow quickly - and that means they often need new uniforms. If you school doesn't have a second-hand store, consider starting one either formally or informally. A shoutout on a parents and friends Facebook group for your school is a good start.

If you don't have an older child at the same school, ask friends who have older children. You may be surprised to find that people are happy to give away uniforms their kids no longer need. As I type this, I've just received uniform items from a friend whose son graduated from primary school in December.

For schools that use generic uniforms, order online from places like Best & Less, Kmart and Target. Stores will bring in school uniforms at the beginning of the year, and already they are selling out fast. Last year, many stores ran out mid-year - I know this after visiting seven stores in search of black school pants.


How can kids use so much stationery? Easily it seems, especially when they are in a classroom writing and drawing.

You can save anywhere from $10 to $30 book pack by assembling your own. If you have more than one child, this can be a big saving. And moreover, there may be many items you can reuse, which is a big win for sustainability. Do they really need a new pencil sharpener? Or pencil case? Or set of mathematical instruments? While a store-bought stationery packs offers all these things in one handy collection, chances are you already have some of the essentials. This helps not only your wallet, but also the environment.

This time of year, many stores are selling stationery items including ALDI, which has some super cute kids stationery items. And don't discount specialty stores such as Officeworks - last year Choice magazine listed it as the cheapest source for most school supplies.

There is also an increasing number of online stationery businesses such as COS and Mega Office Supplies that cater to school supplies. Some online retailers such as Catch also have back to school stationery specials.


If your child's backpack is still usable, don't feel pressured to buy a new one just because it's a new year. If you can't get more than one school year out of a backpack, consider purchasing something more durable and better quality as they will get a lot of wear - especially the zips as little hands aren't always gentle.


Shoes - even more than clothing - are often a big expense for parents. Kids need sturdy shoes at school, especially if they are sporty. And they grow out of shoes quickly.

ALDI has an annual sale on school shoes, and many of them are good quality. Costco also stocks good decent shoes including sports shoes. Discount outlets often have shoe stores and if you are lucky, you may be able to get some in the right size and style. And if you know your child's size, there are school shoes on Catch as well.


Whatever school supplies you purchase this year, the big tip is to name all of them to avoid them getting lost. Kids get distracted easily and will invariably lose something. It's especially hard when things like uniforms all look alike. Investing in label makers and name tapes can be a good investment, and is cheaper than you might think.

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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!
Sarah Daly
January 16, 2021 10.05am

My tip- print out stationary lists for the next 1 or 2 year levels. See if there are items that routinely come up and when clearance sales start in February and March stock up on them. Usually HB pencils, coloured pencils, glue sticks and erasers are safe bets to bulk buy. Set these items aside in a storage box out of the kids reach and you'll have a handy supply to top up when needed and a head start on next year's list too.