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Simple ways to save on school costs

Piggy bank
We all want to give our children the best in life, but with the cost of living rising it can seem impossible to pinch those pennies and pay for school materials at the same time. Uniforms, meals, trips and birthday parties – the list goes on. But who knows how to budget better than a primary-school parent? Check out our tried-and-tested budgeting tips from other parents.



Saving money on uniform

• Some of the best Back to School sales are at the end of the school year, not the beginning, so plan ahead in July and stock up on 3 for 2 uniform items. Remember to allow for a summer-holidays growth spurt!

• Does your school sell off the contents of the lost property bin if they’re unclaimed? Ask in the office − there are huge bargains to be had on unlabelled uniform items.

• Some schools sell second-hand uniform through the office or at PTA events; if your school doesn’t, why not suggest it? Second-hand items are often in great condition and cost a fraction of what new, school-branded polo shirts, cardigans and jumpers do.

• Children grow out of clothes in months or weeks. Speak to other parents to ask if they would consider selling outgrown uniform items they no longer need.

• Look for new money-saving apps like Olio: an app that allows neighbours to share and give away items for free that they no longer need. Olio can be a great resource for back-to-school supplies, often listing uniform and stationery. 

• Spread the costs by putting aside £10 a month and you’ll have a uniform nest-egg to spend at the beginning of the school year.

• Use auction sites to sell off clothes in good condition but which your children have grown out of.

The new Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Act 2021 passed in April 2021, which requires schools to keep costs down for low-income families. The Children's Society provides free resources to explain the new law to parents and teachers. You can use the government's online checker to see what help is available in your area. You might be entitled to a grant if you live in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland, particularly if you are already claiming free school meals

Saving money on presents and parties

• Sign up to loyalty schemes and save the vouchers. By using them at the right time you might be able to double their value (very useful at Christmas or for birthday presents).

• Stock up on party presents by buying multi-packs of books from discount booksellers.

• Make hand-made birthday cards − cheap, more meaningful and a great kids’ craft activity for a rainy afternoon.

• Avoid the cost of hiring a venue for a birthday party by hosting a sleepover or having a movie/gaming/garden party at your house. Kids absolutely love the novelty of having a group of their best friends over and you can put on activities and party games without the need for a long invite list or a big, private venue. 

• Save money (and the planet) by asking partiers to bring their own party bag, filled with some of their unloved, small toys or fun items from around the house that are no longer being used (i.e. spare balloons, extra treats from Halloween, discarded toy cars that have been living under the sofa). If everyone brings a bag, you can do a swap so kids can take home something unique. Great way to reuse, declutter and save pennies!  

Saving money on meals

• Resist the lure of ready-made lunchbox-sized food. A larger pack is cheaper, and you can decide on the portion size you want to allocate yourself and rewrap it.

• Use a reusable water bottle and fill it with your own juice for school. This saves money on buying small cartons of juice, which are more expensive.

• Cook more than you need for your evening meal. Any leftovers can be stored in lunch-boxed-sized containers and frozen, or eaten for lunch the next day.

Make your own treats, baking at the week-end and freezing what you’ve made for use during the week. (This also allows for extra smugness about how healthy your kids’ biscuits/muffins/flapjacks are.)

• Compare prices at different supermarkets and consider online shopping so you can plan your meals out and stick to a budget. Sites like allow you to compare each item in a list of popular supermarket brands. 

If you meet the criteria, you can apply for free school meals, and Wales is extending their free meals to all primary school pupils in Wales by 2024. 

Saving money on clubs and trips

• If the cost of extra-curricular activities is mounting up, and you have keen-to-help family members, consider asking them to contribute to swimming lessons or ballet classes rather than buying toys as birthday presents. 

• Some places host free clubs, such as libraries and local leisure centres. If your child is keen on coding, there are some great, free coding dojos in some areas. They usually provide laptops but you might be asked to bring your own if they are fully booked. 

• Always look into payment instalments, and contact your child's school if you're really struggling to pay for a class trip. Some schools only request donations for short trips and will be understanding about financial constraints.

• If your child is going on a long school trip and they need to bring daily spending money, use this as the perfect opportunity to teach them about budgetting. They will only have a set amount to spend and it's up to them to spend wisely! 

Saving money on costumes and crafts

• Home-made costumes are unique and inventive if you can find the time to make them. Whether it’s World Book Day, Halloween or the Nativity, you don’t need to have expert sewing skills to have a go.

• Share and reuse costumes with other parents, particularly with family members whose kids might not go to the same school! 

Face painting is the way to go if you're really stuck for costume ideas. You can normally get a pack of paints for cheap at your local pound shop, or somewhere similar, and you don't have to be an artist to get it right (think Harry Potter's forehead). 

• Don't compare yourself to other parents on social media, who always seem to have endless supplies of craft materials to create with their kids. You can do super cheap, and even free, craft activities at home. You just need pencils and paper to do free YouTube drawing videos!

• Get into the 'reuse' mindset and start putting together a box of any unwanted or unused items in the house – clothing, dishcloths, sponges, loo rolls, lolly pop sticks, crisp packets – and keep them in your very own 'craft corner' ready for when you need them. There will be plenty of craft ideas online to help you find ways to use these all up. 

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