The summer holidays have finished and children across the UK return to school this week, with Scottish pupils already back in the classroom.
The start of the school year comes with a big financial cost to parents and carers. And after the economic impact of the pandemic, parents are even more stretched than usual, with 76 per cent saying they are worried about the rising costs of school essentials according to research from the price comparison website, Idealo.
Primary school uniforms cost an average of £315, while secondary school uniforms typically cost £337, The Children’s Society found.
A new law was expected to be introduced by the Department for Education (DfE) this term to bring down uniform costs, saving parents hundreds of pounds, but it has not happened in time.
There are lots of ways to bring costs down, making the return to school a bit more manageable financially.
When it comes to clothes, many schools run second-hand uniform sales, local charity shops are worth a browse, along with local parent groups on Facebook - where you can often pick up already-worn clothes.
Supermarkets offer great value for uniforms too. At Lidl, you can pick up two polo shirts, a jumper, and either trousers or a skirt for just £4.50.
School uniform grants of up to £200, are also available for some pupils. Your child will need to be eligible for free school meals to apply, and you can apply for the grant on the gov.co.uk/help-school-clothing-costs website.
Katie Skelton, 39, who lives in the New Forest with her two children and runs the Little Green Duck company, says joining a local parents WhatsApp group is a good way to cut uniform costs too.
She said: “If your child is one of the youngest in the class, their older classmate may have outgrown their uniforms and they could still fit your child. If they’re one of the oldest, another classmate may have an older sibling who has outgrown their uniform and can gift or sell it to you.
“It’s much better for the environment too, rather than buying everything brand new.”
You can even cut costs of labelling school uniforms by using a reusable stamp. The stamp lasts forever and should come with an ink pad, which is more economical than buying stickers that can only be used once. Plus, the name will usually last around 50 washes.
Food costs can also make a significant dent in a household budget.
Sarah Davis, 50, from Leeds says she batch cooks and freezes all sorts of lunches for her nine-year-old to eat at school.
She said: “We batch make and freeze sandwiches – it saves time and money, there’s variety and we don’t waste any food.
“If we get them out in the morning they are the perfect temperature by lunch and they keep other things like yoghurt and fruit cool in a sandwich box.”
Sarah, the owner of the Parenting Copywriter, said she uses a variety of bread, like pitta, rolls, sliced loaf, bagels and wraps, to keep things interesting and freezes all sorts of fresh meat and fish including salmon, ham, chicken, pork and stuffing.
If you receive a benefit, like universal credit or child tax credit, there are usually a number of schemes across the country that can help with the cost of school lunches too.
Emma Bradley, 45, mum of three and owner of the blog Mummy Savvy Savings, recommends finding out what help you’re eligible for.
She said: “If you are on a low income, check if you’re entitled to grants for uniform and if you are eligible for free school lunches.
“You may be eligible for a pupil premium too – this gives the school more money and can be used to pay for the cost of some school trips and clubs.”
The time of year also matters when it comes to budgeting for the school year. Parents can save up to £200 if they choose less popular months to buy school items, according to Idealo.
It analysed the cost of different school items, such as sportswear, school shoes, laptops, and stationery and found a difference of around £200 depending on when they were bought.
While this may not be possible for everything – if your child needs a new pair of school shoes you can’t really wait until they become cheaper – it’s always worth comparing prices to make sure you’re not spending more than you need to.
Using a price history tool can also help by giving you an idea of when you can pick things up cheaply – like buying winter coats in the summer sales.
Unexpected costs can come up at any time during the school year, like when a trip needs paying for or a coat gets lost. Having some money put away in an emergency savings account that pays interest can provide a buffer to pay for any unanticipated spending.