saving money

ask the readers–how do you save money on back to school expenses?

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In the recent reader survey, a respondent suggested asking you, the reader, your ideas and input on various topics.

I think this is an excellent idea for two reasons: firstly my knowledge is very limited and I think all readers (myself included) would benefit from your experience and knowledge. Secondly, it makes for an easy post for me to write – not so much research, writing and editing (I do edit, I promise).

When it comes to back to school expenses, I have no clue. It’s been 13 years since I left school. A lot of things have changed since then. And the little fella won’t be going to school for another few years yet.

When I was doing the HSC we had one computer lab with four students to a computer (none of which were hooked up to the internet) and another room with a few old Apple Macs. I used a typewriter at home to type out assignments (ok, we were a little behind the times as well). For internet access, you had to book the ONE computer in the library and, well, there were only a handful of students that actually did that.

Nowadays, each highschool student has access to a laptop, so I’m told, and a USB drive is a compulsory item to buy. The local public school gives out scholarships each year to cover expenses. Do students still need to take their own dictionaries to school? I still have my trusty pocket Collins Gem in the top drawer of my desk and I still use it (and it still smells like Impulse deodorant spray – disgusting stuff that it is – all these years later).

Ok, now that I’ve had my reminisce, it’s over to you – what are your tips on saving money on back to school expenses?


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  1. I started saving for kinder and primary school the year before they started either….we live in the country so our kinder is relatively cheap compared to those in the cities….i purchased uniform shirts and jumpers for kinder to save on their other clothes….i also used laundry pens and stickers that said Kingston Family instead of individual names as I have 3 children and they will/have re-used everything…since my eldest just started school last year, and I have never experienced public education before, our school fees were only $100 and we haven’t had to purchase anything stationery wise – its all been provided. Again,I purchased the school uniform new including their shorts and tracksuit pants as they are of very high quality and sturdy material, and last years have been put away for when my second child begins school next year….they still look brand new….i use my own laundry liquid (thanks Rhonda) and I dry them in the shade as the uniform shirts are bright red and we live in a sweltering heatlands….some kids at school look like there wearing pink shirts! I have also started putting a small amount away for when they get to high school, even though its 6 years away, I’ve heard those calculators are a killer! I make their lunch snacks and slices, we don’t have a tuckshop and I don’t let my children eat things with numbers in the ingredients. This is a great time saver and money saver….I have 3 boys who are all ravenous by 4 o’clock in the afternoon, so some extra zucchini slice or home made museli bars are very handy! My sons best friend also has a nut allergy, and if I was to purchase the high end museli bars from the supermarket which have no sugar or nasty additives, they would have nuts in them….I found some great recipies online for quality and filling museli bars without the added sugar or nuts….the kids love their treats and don’t feel like their going without cause they have the same sort of things that their friends have, without the sugar, and without the wrappers rubbish left in their lunchboxes!

  2. Thanks Whitney – They are some great tips. We have also started saving for school (even though it’s a few years away) just a couple of dollars a week, and our laundry detergent is based on one I learnt of Rhonda!

    Do you mind sharing links for the recipes? I would LOVE to try some sugar free muesli bars (I tried one with rice syrup – it was ok but very hard). That would be awesome, if you have the time.

    Thanks again for your tips!

  3. I find the ongoing expenses throughout the year to be the killer. $1 here, $2 there, plus buy raffle tickets, plus donate prize for raffle.

    Have decided this year to take out money at the start of each term and keep in a jar for those times. Guaranteed the note comes home the night before the money is needed and I rarely carry cash these days. – not a money saving tip, just a practical one. I suppose though you could set a budget this way.

    If you can find out what raffles they do throughout the year and they type of prizes they need, that way you can look for them on when on special, or may be *gasp* regift an unwanted present.

    Thankfully our school does not have a canteen, but do lunch orders twice a week to the local store. So no bugging for money every day. I have set a rule of one lunch order per fortnight. Allows her to have a treat and keeps control of the money spent.

    I save money on uniforms by keeping an eye on Target. They seem to struggle keep the size and colour we need in stock, so I wait till they are on special and then ask them to bring them in for me and they are good and honour the sale price. Also their sales rack can be pretty good, windcheaters for less than $1.50 is too good to pass up.

  4. My youngest daughter started Year 10 today. The Australian school year runs with the calendar. Expenses vary from school to school. At the end of the year I do a quick stock take of what we have on hand and compare that to our school lists. From there I try to buy during the back to school sales and then have extra paper, note books, pens etc on hand. We are now at the tail end of schooling. We have a home computer and when my middle child started university I had to up the internet package. Other than I try hard to back second hand. Our school changed the uniform just as we started there so I was able to buy uniforms with a year’s wear on them. I don’t skimp on shoes as it proved to be a false economy for us. Second hand books have worked well for us too. Calculators have been the bane of my existence as two of the three just did not care. The teachers were very specific about the type. The middle child made hers last five years and I am thankful for that blessing. Some things the school is rather strict about. It is to do with teacher’s time etc. For example if there are ten different brands of calculators in the room it probably means at five or six different ways to use the things.

    I try to save during the year. I now know that day one of school is expensive as they do photos early for id cards and there are a number of school trips. Our school sends out the levy figures at the end of the year so I have a fair idea. Right now I need to set aside about $35 (AUS) each week to cover the costs of attending the local government school. This does not include the extra I have to allow for involvement in the music, dance and drama programs.

  5. Hi Astrid, good idea for the raffle tickets! I never have spare change lying around the house either.

    Hi Suze, both hubby and I still have our highschool calculators and still use them, so a good investment for us :). I remember for our school you had to buy a particular brand and model and the school bought them in bulk so that students could get a discount. Does your school do this? Maybe an idea for the P&C to make it cheaper.

    We never had to buy any of our own books at school – we borrowed them for the year and gave them back (some were years and years old), but I understand from cousins that they have to buy their own textbooks now too. Things change a lot in such a short time.

    Good tip about using the levies to work out how much to save a week! I forgot about dance, excursions etc.

  6. My school worrying days are over but I do remember when my first baby started school. My husband had been unemployed for awhile and I was a stay at home Mum. Never grew up living tight so I felt very guilty about my child starting school without ‘stuff’, not to mention school fees. Racking my brain for ways to make money, I came up with letterbox delivery. The year before my little girl started school I delivered junk mail. It was slave labour and my husband helped in between part time work. At the beginning of the school year I had enough money ( with a little extra saved) to pay the fees, buy the uniform, backpack, shoes, pens, paper etc. After that I was in front and prepared for each year. Eventually gave up my lucrative job when my husband got full time work:)

  7. Uniforms: Avoid fading by turning inside out and drying in the shade if possible, this makes a big difference over time.
    Buying a bit big and taking hems up helps too. Is there one item which the child really “needs” branded? Can the rest (or all) be from big W or Kmart? Can you buy 1 set branded and “spares” non branded?

    Shoes: Black runners are our school shoe of choice. (Bicarb soda is great to deodorise overnight- every weekend if you are this organised, sprinkle inside shoes, vacume out the next day before wearing.)

    School bag: Don’t go cheap! look for quality. Your childs back will thank you, your health budget will thank you. Your long term savings will thank you. Check the base, is it hard wearing, or thin? Check the straps, and the zippers. After we set the rule that only one “brand name” bag would be brought per year, then plastic bags would replace any mistreated ones, the bags started lasting longer. (last years bag is great for beach trips and over night stays.
    Check and make sure the bag is cleaned out reguarly, rotting food, wet clothing, leaking pens…need I say more. (If your child will use it, then a plasic bag lining will help protect the bag.)

    “Extras”, School photos etc: Have change “on hand” in a special container for that only.
    Saving for the big stuff is a great idea, I must get organised and do it.

    Having a regular baking habit for morning tea snacks is a great thing.

    After school is the perfect time to add to the veggie count. Cold fresh sliced cucumber, after a hot bus trip or walk home is always welcome at our house. Carrot sticks, dips, home made icy poles, in winter hot soup…etc. (having a plan for hunger busting food at 4pm ish saves on impulse buying when running after school errands, improves the mood of the kids, and saves on prepacked snack type foods.) Melted cheese toasties are also welcome at our place. The idea is to get something filling ish and healthy.

    Stationary, cheap pens are a waste of money. Kilimetrico pens from Kmart are good value. Buy enough to last the year now during the back to school deals if you can. Buy in bulk if you can. I also buy our household stationary and put it aside for when it is needed later in the year.

    Back to school stationary can also make great party favours and gifts throughout the year. Big W and Kmart are my favourites. has stapleless stapler, long term savings if you use one a lot, and my favourite… “O’Bon” pencils which don’t have useless leads which break and drive parents and children crazy. Costs more to buy, but lasts longer, and can save money in the long run. useful free notepads.

    Laybying items for later use helps me get the deals without outlaying all the money now.

    Lunches, IMHO drink bottles are a waste of money, they get forgotten, lost, mouldy etc. I just use bought and refilled water/ juice pop tops in a size to suit the child. Half filling and freezing removes the need for “icepacks” (fill the rest in the morning.) In a pinch bread with the crust cut off and flattened (add spread of choice) then rolled into scrolls is a handy (freezable) snack, and share plate item.

    Keep lunches and snacks simple, freezing keeps things fresher and can be done all at once at the start of the shopping week. A six pack of ham and cheese bread rolls, pre cut and buttered, individually packed/ wrapped and frozen are great if time is an issue.

    potato salad is another good one.

    Hair bands, buy in bulk. For great tangle free ones cut up old stockings, these are amazing, and look “normal”. has a how to, under a minute long.

    I’m sure there is more but I’ll have to check in again later. The kids are getting restless.

  8. School photos: Most people, including myself order more photos then they need. The main thing is the class photo. If you can only get one thing get that. Forget the add ons, you don’t need them. Taking a photo of a photo or scanning one can help you if you want to add the picture to facebook, (or just get extra copies) of course you should check copyright laws etc.

    Label everything,
    to do this you need a thin permant/ laundry marker, print out (in colour and font of childs choosing) an A4 page of name labels and clear sticky tape. thats it 🙂

    The names are best done in some smaller and some large sizes. Cut and sticky tape, at an angle (this allows room for longer names) around all pens, pencils etc. (at the top to allow for sharpening.) Some items such as calculators can be engraved by an adult with a pin.
    Write names on “tongues” of shoes, toes of socks (for younger kids), tags of clothes. Last names are best for families with “hand me down” in place.

    Buy more hats than you need if you are getting the cheaper ones at the start of the year, they will save you later.

    Individualize bags with “bag tags” (tips for homemade ones all over the internet.) Tie a ribbon or rope piece to the handle, or let your child use permant coloured markers to “graffitti” or colour their bag to suit their personality. (some schools- mostly private, may not like this, so if in doubt check first.)

    Not a bugeting idea but….include bandaids, hair ties, plastic “garbage” bag, change of underwear in discrete bag, sanitary items (and the just in case talk if over 10 and not their yet…because you never know), sunscreen, a few zip lock bags (amazing how these can be sooo handy), panadol/ antihystamines (high school), throat losengers, tissues, small pack wet wipes, deodorant (older kids, some schools don’t allow spray ons), lip balm, bug sting relief (when my daughter was in middle and upper primary school she used this for oval ant bites, mossie bites, stings from insects on the walk home etc) I got her little sachets through st johns online store. I also carry some in my purse. They can be carried around for over 6 months and still be handy when you need them without using a lot of space. If a child is walking home or on a school bus for 1/2 hour or more they can suffer horribly because of a simple ant bite.

    to have a side pocket in a school bag filled with things like these can make a big difference!

    Most school allow for school fees to be paid off over time, if you can use this…especially if you can then pay of any credit cards sooner. DONT put things on credit cards if you can pay them interest free!!!

    Save on petrol and gym fees, if possible walk the kids to school. Many people I know use this time to walk the family dog and steal some valueable family time, while keeping up to date with school goings on.

    Although not healthy I find two minute noodles a very handy budget option for afternoon snacks, especially when the kids bring a friend or two home. (most kids- I haven’t met one yet who doesn’t-enjoy them.)

    School lunches, if your going to treat the kids, give them some money for an icypole or whatever at school, rather then after it. They will enjoy it twice as much.

    If you have errands to run, pack a part frozen drink and snacks in the car after school to avoid pressure to spend at the shops. (this WILL save you heaps!!!)

    To remove acrylic paint from school uniforms…use methylated spirits and an old toothbrush. Soak…(by applying on affected area and letting sit for 5-15 minutes)then Scrub in a circular motion…sit down if you can, this works but over time depending on how much paint is involved. I found by making the high school lad do this HIMSELF he soon learned to be a little more careful 🙂 (patch test on a small bit of out of sight fabric if in doubt.)

    When you find hints that work note them down for future reference, it may mean nothing at the time, but when you need it…well you get the picture.

    Try to find other like minded parents to swap or buy second hand uniforms, textbooks etc with.

    kids are getting restless again 🙂

  9. Almost forgot, school photos, if you have 2 or more children at the same school, forget individual photos and opt for the family portraits generally available.

    1. Wow! Lots of great tips! I will have to file these away for later! I loved the link to the staple-free stapler. Do you use a ‘normal’ one for when you have more than three pages?

      You reminded me about when I was at school, dad used to make up a big batch of pancake mixture for after school snacks and just cook a couple for us when we got home (or we would when we got older). Very cheap and we loved it!

  10. Astrid, so true. Now that my son is in high school the weekly expenses are incredible. Rather than $2 here and there, I now get notes home asking for $20 or $30 (to be paid in two days’ time, please!)

    One huge way to save on school textbooks is eBay, of course. I am happy to report that I saved over $100 this year by purchasing books online. New Maths and Humanities texts are $65 each – I got the Humanities one for $27! (Be sure you are buying the correct edition). I have also managed to pay for part of this by selling last years’ textbooks on eBay. There is fierce competition for the more expensive texts, and if you can cover them in Contact, and persuade your darlings to keep them in good nick, so much the better.

    1. Hi Kath, thanks for the tip on purchasing textbooks on eBay! I would never have thought to look there. I still can’t believe you have to buy them these days – we have a fair few more expenses to save for than our parents did!

  11. Clear contact of best quality( ask where your school or local library get theres make a contract with your childre looking after text books, uniforms etc. When they’resold 50/50 split with money. You have some to buy new books etc and they have learnt money to spend in the holidays Great motivation!

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