The Salvation Army URL has changed to

Find out more

It’s worth doing your homework

1 April 2020

Here’s some tips for saving money on school costs from The Salvation Army’s award-winning financial program, ‘You’re the Boss’.

Back-to-school costs can be a big financial hit to families after the expenses of Christmas and the summer holidays.

A survey by market researchers Field Agent found that 78 per cent of parents said that back-to-school costs placed a strain on their household budgets — and no wonder when last year’s total spend on these expenses was around $3.8 billion for Australia’s 4.5 million children.

We all want the best for our kids, which is why educational expenses can cause a lot of stress. There’s a great temptation, and sometimes pressure, to buy a new set of supplies at the beginning of every year. But you can reduce your costs if you do your ‘homework’ by planning and preparing for the new school term. 

Start by ‘shopping’ at home. Go through the supplies you and your children already have before deciding what to buy. It’s often surprising how many forgotten pens, pencils, markers and rulers can be found lying around the house. The goal is to purchase only what is absolutely needed. 

It’s also a clever strategy to play the ‘long game’ while you’re shopping throughout the year. If you find items on sale that you know your child will need, consider purchasing them.

Decide how much you can realistically afford for school supplies and set your limit. If you’ve budgeted for the cost of back-to-school expenses, you might be able to purchase every item at the start of the year. If not, work out what you need to buy now and what items you can save up to purchase later.

Be aware that you may need a budget for each child, as they may need different things depending on their age and the school’s requirements.

Here are some strategies that may help to keep your costs down.

School uniforms often represent a big chunk of your back-to-school spending so start the year by pulling out all the school clothing you have. See if last year’s uniform still fits or if an older sibling’s uniform now fits a younger child. Buy only what you need at the start of the year and wait until the cooler weather before buying winter uniforms to give you time to save.

Does your school have a uniform clothing pool or second-hand shop? Chat with parents who have older children at your school and see if they have any second-hand items they can sell or hand on to you. Facebook groups for your local area are useful, too, where parents often post uniform items for sale. Buy your uniforms one size larger to last longer — children grow so quickly! And don’t forget to label, label, label — then if an item is misplaced, hopefully it will be returned to you.

Some items are worth investing in, such as shoes or schoolbags. If you have a choice in the bag or backpack for your school, look for a durable one that will last many years. Consider versatile sneakers that suit school and sport or opt for inexpensive, quality leather without the brand name.

Technology is becoming a big cost for parents. A survey of 1000 parents commissioned by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia found that 50 per cent of parents spent more on technology items, such as laptops and tablets, in 2018 compared with 2017. The survey showed the cost of technology purchases per family totalled $269, coming in higher than uniform purchases ($182), textbooks ($127), school shoes ($103) and stationery ($91).

Try to avoid being caught in the cycle of upgrading to the newest, latest and greatest. Consider second-hand options; there are plenty of places you can source pre-owned or refurbished computers, laptops and tablets. If you need a new computer, buy something with enough memory to meet your requirements now and that will also allow for software upgrades (requiring greater memory) in the future.

Another way to stop eating into your budget over the school year is to pack your child’s lunch. If you give your child lunch money once a week rather than every day, you can save more than
$1000 over the year (assuming lunch costs $7).

Look for a durable lunchbox — you can buy these with separate compartments for different food items, eliminating the need for individual wrapping.

Packing a healthy, tasty lunch in a hurry five days a week can be a challenge. There’s often a strong temptation to opt for easy choices such as pre-packaged snack items, but these come at a financial — and environmental — cost. 

Get your children involved in choosing their lunch and you’ll find they’ll be more likely to eat it, and less likely to throw it out. And using a stainless steel drink bottle will cost you less than all those juice boxes in the long run.

Extracurricular activities can blow the budget, but there are strategies that can help. Creating clear, positive rules within families can help make these tough decisions easier. For example, you may be able to afford one extracurricular activity per term for each child. 

By limiting choices, you provide children with an opportunity to focus on what they’re most interested in. If the cost of this activity is more than you can afford, are there cheaper alternatives available at your local church or community centre? Another option could be to ask family members to purchase sporting equipment or lessons as a birthday or holiday gift.

Assistance programs may be available to help parents struggling to meet the costs of schooling. Talk to staff at your child’s school to see what options may be available to you.

And a final piece of advice — start saving for next year’s school supplies now.

If you need help with your finances, go to


No comments yet - be the first.

Leave a Comment

- Will not be published

Email me follow-up comments

Default avatarWould you like to add a personal image? Visit to get your own free gravatar, a globally-recognized avatar. Once setup, your personal image will be attached every time you comment.