Single mum sells her car to afford back-to-school essentials as living costs spiral

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When Corryn Harding’s children opened their presents under the Christmas tree and found school bags and shoes, their faces fell.

“They were a little bit sad that they were school items,” the single mother of three said.

Ms Harding is one of thousands of Australian families who will miss out on essential school items this year, amid rising cost-of-living pressures.

It has cost the mother from Hebersham in Sydney’s outer north-west around $500 to get the kids back to school, including three new bags and two pairs of shoes and stationery.

Ms Harding also recently sold her car to cope with expenses. Now she has to borrow her ex-partner’s vehicle.

“It’s very stressful because I managed to get the [school camp] deposit down, then I saw the weeks creeping up on me and I thought, ‘no, I can’t afford it this week’,” she said.

Ms Harding sticks to a strict budget for groceries and plans ahead for school expenses.

But already this year, it’s been a battle to cover the essentials.

“Starting halfway through last year, I started collecting stuff,” she said.

“I have a school expenses account that I transfer money into every week, otherwise the kids do, sadly, miss out.

“I catalogue surf. I go from Coles to Aldi to Woolworths to get all the cheapest items, so I don’t spend so much.”

Families miss out on school supplies

A survey of 2,000 families doing it tough by charity The Smith Family, which has launched a push for new sponsors, has found thousands of children will this year miss out on essential items like digital devices, uniforms and shoes.

“Devices such as laptops are absolutely education essentials, yet digital access and affordability is a major issue for students in low-income households,” the charity’s chief executive Doug Taylor said.

The survey found nearly nine out of 10 parents and carers were worried about being able to afford everything their children needed, while more than half thought they couldn’t afford the digital devices they needed for their schoolwork.

Four in 10 thought their children would miss out on other school supplies, such as exercise books and stationery.

Three in 10 thought their children would miss out on uniforms or shoes for school.

“[The Smith Family’s] vital education support is life-changing for the young people on our program, helping them to unlock their potential and create a better future for themselves,” Mr Taylor said.

The Harding family needs a new school laptop — but it’s not possible this year.

“We have a very old laptop, it’s falling apart but we still use it,” Ms Harding said.

More parents opt for second-hand books and uniforms

Victorian government schools are supposed to provide students with free instruction and ensure students have free access to all items, but public school education can cost $1,300 a year.

For those looking to reduce costs, the state government recommends buying second-hand uniforms or using a laptop from home, if it’s compatible with the school’s network.

Niki Christoforou owns a second-hand bookshop in at Moonee Ponds in Melbourne’s north-west and said more families were looking to avoid buying new books.

“A lot are coming in this year. Parents are spending more than $700 on books brand new. It’s $95 for one VCE book,” she said.

“Last year, around 75 per cent of senior students were buying second-hand.”

Ms Christoforou said parents were struggling with the costs associated with updates to the curriculum.

“Parents are sick of these books and the curriculum changing all the time. They’re paying double,” she said.

“If you’re doing five VCE subjects … that’s a lot of money.”

For Ms Harding, The Smith Family’s sponsorship money is the difference between proper school shoes and shoes that are falling apart.

“We bought school shoes for Laura’s birthday last year. She’s going to use them this year, they’re still pretty new,” she said.

By Shannon Schubert (Original ABC Article)