It’s time for the kids to go back to school. They need stationery, uniforms, books and sporting equipment. All of this can quickly add up, especially in the wake of the December holidays. But with a little common sense and a lot of discipline you can get your back-to-school budget under control. Here are some tips to help you on your way.
First, let go of the idea that your children need all new everything to start the school year. A scratched ruler or a grubby hockey stick still do the job just as well. Then get all your kids’ school equipment together and write up a list of what you already have. You could easily end up buying a full sports kit or set of stationery when you’re at the shops simply because you don’t know what you already have at home.
This is a great opportunity to teach your child about the value of money and budgeting. Explain to them that you’re trying to cut back on costs and ask for their help. Teach them to distinguish between needs and wants and come to an agreement about the items that you really need to buy or replace. But remember to include one treat or splurge in your planning as a reward for your child’s commitment to saving.
Once you’ve done your inventory and spoken to your child, make a list of the things that you need. It’s easier to be sensible when you’re not subjected to marketing and special offers at the shops. But having a list is one thing and sticking to it is another. Make it your golden rule that you can’t buy anything that wasn’t written down on paper before you walked through the doors of the shop.
When you go out to do the big shop, leave your kid at home. Nothing pushes up the final cost faster than having a delighted and demanding shopping companion. You’ll end up with a bag of troll pencil toppers and sparkly pencil cases and none of the stuff you need if your child tags along.
Compare the prices of similar items at a number of different shops. You’ll save time and petrol if you can do this online. You’ll most likely find the best prices at your local low-cost supermarket rather than specialist sports shops and art shops or newsagents. Remember that if you’re really serious about cost saving you can even team up with some other parents and go to a bulk-buying outlet for even bigger discounts.
If shops are offering ten lined books at half price or a big discount on school shoes then make sure you take advantage of these offers. But be sensible. Many stores offer “back to school” packs, but what seems like a special offer on the packaging could actually end up costing you money in the long run. Cheap stationery kits, for instance, are often bulked up with unnecessary or poor-quality items.
Most schools have a second-hand book and uniform shop. Make use of it. Or cut out the middle man by befriending the parents of a child in the year ahead of yours. That way you can work out a fair deal on hand-me-down books and uniforms at the end of every year.
Don’t overburden your child or your wallet with endless extra murals. Sit down with your child and ask what they would most like to do (some schools insist on one sporting and one other after-school activity), and budget for those. And if your child wants to try something new, don’t buy all the kit and equipment right away. Let them try out a few classes in a tracksuit and with borrowed gear before making a financial commitment.
Even parents who spend very little on themselves tend to overspend on their children – especially when it comes to a competitive playing field like school. Remember that the most important things in your child’s life are your love and quality time, both of which cost nothing. Focus on those things in the year to come and don’t overspend on material things and entertainment. You’ll be teaching your children a valuable lesson that will last them the rest of their lives.