Here’s how to save money on back-to-school purchases in 2021
For many, December and January can be less about the joy of gift-giving and holidays to the beach, and more about the dread of trying to make a limited budget stretch to Christmas presents, holiday activities and all those back-to-school purchases.
However, there are a number of ways to reduce the financial burden of the new school year.
Here are some top tips to make your dollar stretch further during the start of 2021.
Write a list and set a limit
First of all, the preparation.
The Australian Government’s moneysmart.gov.au website says going shopping with a list means you’ll be more likely to only buy what you need.
Another tip is to use buying school items as an opportunity to teach your kids about money.
If your kids are older, agree on a budget and then let them do the shopping, the site recommends.
Creating a budget before the year starts is also helpful.
Include in that an estimate of any extra costs that might come up during the year like excursions, camps, sporting or music events and lessons, and project supplies.
Shop online, avoid stress
Melissa Goodwin authors a blog called Frugal and Thriving, and says “shopping around online will not only save you money, it will save time and sanity as well”.
“Avoid the stressed-out crowds with click-and-collect options too,” she says.
“If you shop online, once you find the best bargains, see if you can get an extra rebate on top with a cashback site.”
Two of the best cashback sites are ShopBack and Cashrewards.
These websites pool a number of retailers’ goods for sale, and while buyers still get the item directly from the brand, the website gives a percentage of the price back to the customer.
They fund this through advertising revenue.
Be proactive and wise about uniforms
Madonna Bechaz set up the Budget Mum blog to “inspire” her own financial journey, and now with two children of her own, recommends parents turn to online sales platforms to find quality, pre-loved uniforms.
She says Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree are a good place to start with posting your own advertisements.
“Don’t wait for something to come up. Write your own ads looking to buy and ask for pictures,” Ms Bechaz says.
“The earlier you can do this, the better your chances of success.
“This is a great place to source both uniforms and text books.
“Try looking for specific online groups by searching your school name plus the words ‘uniforms’ or ‘textbooks’.”
Your school’s uniform shop will likely have a second hand section as well.
“Make use of this by buying from there and also selling back to get a discount off new uniforms,” Ms Bechaz says.
Consider also consulting your network of parents, Ms Goodwin advised.
“They may have hand-me-downs for free. See if you can organise your own uniform swap with other parents,” she says.
The website moneysmart.gov.au also has advice on staggering the purchase of uniforms by only buying what your child or children need for the first term.
And, delay buying extra pieces or winter items until it gets colder.
Don’t double-up on stationery
“If you’re needing to buy stationery, do a complete stocktake of what you have already before you head to the shops,” Ms Bechaz says.
“Often last year’s items are still perfectly fine, saving you money and the environment by not replacing them unnecessarily.”
Ms Goodwin agrees and says don’t limit an audit to stationery — go through uniforms, bags, lunch containers, shoes and socks, too.
If there are specific books required for your child’s schooling, a book pack organised through the school or an affiliated store could save some moolah.
“If your student has specific items on the book list which are hard to source it may be cheaper to buy from the school supplier rather than buy online and pay for shipping,” Ms Bechaz says.
Again, the Australian Government recommends not buying everything on a stationery or book list at once.
Wait until your child needs them, which may be later in the year, and scout out second hand shops and online sites for popular or mandatory books and calculators, or ask parents with older kids for hand-me-downs, their website suggests.
Be savvy about buying electronics
Ms Goodwin says one of the biggest back to school expenses is a device like a tablet or laptop if your school requires you bring your own.
“It can also be the hardest place to save,” she says.
“It’s important to get the specs [specifications] so the device can meet the school’s requirements. Then compare prices with the school’s resource scheme.
“They buy in bulk and get a bulk discount, so it may be cheaper to buy through the school. If you don’t buy through the school, shop around to get the best price.
“Finance options like interest-free and Afterpay can help spread the cost but it’s important to do your own calculations to make sure you repay the amount in time and you don’t get caught out.”
And, at most schools, you don’t have to upgrade your child’s laptop or tablet every year and when you do, look for second hand or refurbished models.
‘Buy the best shoes you can afford’
That’s the advice from Ms Bechaz who says a good quality shoe will last a long time.
“When it comes to buying shoes, I believe you get what you pay for,” she says.
“This is where I would buy the best you can afford so they last as long as possible.
“But that’s not to say you shouldn’t shop around for the best deal.
“Back-to-school sales are often the best time to buy, but shopping online can help to save as well.
“Try in store first and then shop online to get the best deal.”
Uniforms, stationery, books, hats, shoes, towels. Everything.
They will be more likely to be returned if they get lost and you won’t have to bear surprise costs throughout the year.
Get help with transport costs
If your child catches public transport to school, apply for a student concession card.
Some states also provide subsidies to assist school students to travel to and from school:
- Australian Capital Territory — Transport Canberra concessions
- New South Wales — School Student Transport Scheme
- Northern Territory — Student travel scheme
- Queensland — School Transport Assistance Scheme
- South Australia — Travel concession and allowances
- Tasmania — Student travel
- Victoria — Victorian student pass
- Western Australia — Student travel subsidies
There is government assistance too
Services Australia has payments and services to help with your child’s education and health care.
As well, each state government also offers financial assistance to school students to help cover education costs:
- Australian Capital Territory — Secondary Bursary Scheme
- New South Wales — Financial support for students, Active Kids voucher, Creative Kids voucher
- Northern Territory — Financial help and scholarships
- Queensland — Textbook and resource allowance
- South Australia — School Card scheme
- Tasmania — Financial assistance with school levies
- Victoria — Camps, Sports and Excursions Fund, student scholarships, State Schools Relief
- Western Australia — Secondary Assistance Scheme
Ask for help
Lastly, Ms Goodwin says 2020 was a tough year for a lot of people financially, so “if you’re feeling the strain with back to school expenses, then reach out to your school or local charity for help”.
Most schools have financial assistance programs for families.
“And if you’re not feeling the financial pinch, consider donating to a charity to help with school expenses because a good education for every child benefits the entire community and it really does take a village [to raise a child],” Ms Goodwin said.