Five ways you can save money on back to school essentials

As the summer holidays are coming to an end, it is no surprise that Google searches for “save on school” has seen an enormous 5,300% uplift in the last week alone.

With the cost of living crisis affecting millions of households, Brandrated’s money and consumer expert Jenny McCormac reveals how much it costs to fund both primary and secondary school aged children. Jenny also explains how to save money on back-to-school essentials and throughout the school year. 

Why cost per primary school-aged child

The average cost for the typical back-to-school essentials for one child of primary school age is £259. To get to this figure, we looked at the following average costs: 

  • Uniform, including school shoes and sports kits – £111.40 
  • Stationary, including backpack – £31.93
  • After-school clubs (for the year) – £115.67

Throughout the year, the average cost per primary school-aged child is £656.02, which includes:

  • School dinners – £423.77 (based on the average cost per meal, which is £2.23, based on 190 days a year)
  • Childcare – £232.25

The cost per secondary school-aged child

The average cost for back-to-school essentials for one secondary school-aged child is £209.41, which includes:

  • Uniform, including school shoes and sports kits – £153.14 (based on average cost)
  • Stationary, including books and supplies – £56.27

The average cost for a child of secondary school age is £3,081.08. Broken down, this includes:

  • School dinners – £507.30 (based on the average cost per meal, based on 190 days a year)
  • Extra tuition for GCSEs – £240.78 
  • Extra-curricular activities, including school trips – £2,333 (this is an average figure, with most school trips being optional.) 

Five ways you can save money on back to school essentials

As over 50% of families say back-to-school season puts a significant financial strain on them, this time of year can be particularly concerning. However, there are ways to reduce the financial strain without impacting the year. Here are five back to school savings tips.

1) Shop second-hand

This is one of the easiest ways to save money on school supplies for all school aged children. Second-hand uniforms are particularly advisable, especially as children tend to outgrow their clothes extremely quickly, which naturally makes parents wary to splurge when they know they’ll have to be replaced in a matter of months. 

It’s not just uniforms that can be found second-hand, as anything from GCSE textbooks to pencil cases can be found cheaply second-hand.

Even GCSE textbooks that are perhaps a few years out of date are still useful to help guide children through what they need to know. In fact, second-hand books, especially novels that may be read for English Literature, may have annotations and notes from a previous student that will help further your child’s understanding. 

If your child’s school insists on having branded uniform with the school’s logo it can be harder to find a second-hand item of this, especially if the school is relatively small. However, it is worth checking Facebook marketplace and local community groups as many parents will have older uniforms that their children simply will no longer use.

In addition, it’s worth checking to see whether the school’s logo can be purchased on its own, so you can attach it to a generic (and much cheaper!) uniform. 

2) Label everything

Unfortunately, an inevitable part of sending children to school is that they will lose things. From gloves to their entire backpacks (yep!), this is incredibly frustrating, especially as it means you must fork out to replace the lost item.

The easiest way to avoid your child coming home empty handed is to clearly label all their possessions. From stationary to books and uniforms, labelling items means they can be returned directly to your child, avoiding the need to spend more money. 

3) Ask your school to pay off big activities in instalments

Most schools tend to ask parents to pay upfront for extra-curricular activities and school trips, which can be a huge expense. However, a simple phone call to the school can alleviate this stress.

If you are open with your finances and how it would be easier for you to cover the cost in instalments, then you should be able to come to an agreement. Schools want students to take part in extra-curricular activities, so will do their best to work something out. 

4) Avoid driving 

As fuel prices are at record highs, many of us are reducing our reliance on driving and our cars to save money. However, with many of us having no choice but to drive our kids to school every day, this can be a costly trip.

Ask around the playground and your neighbours and see if you can plan a carpool to share the cost of fuel. You’ll be surprised at how many parents will be open to this idea, because not only will it reduce costs, but it can help alleviate the typically stressful school mornings. 

If you are lucky enough to live close enough to your child’s school, then it is definitely advisable to make the most of this and ditch the car for the school run altogether and walk or cycle instead. Not only will this reduce your reliance on the car, but it’s a great way to start both your children’s and your days by getting some exercise.

As it is estimated that up to 72% of children don’t meet the recommended 60 minutes of exercise each day, walking to school is a great way to help them get active. 

5) Wait a bit longer

The end of summer is a notoriously busy time for buying back-to-school supplies, especially as we’ve all been guilty of leaving shopping until the last minute. If you have supplies leftover from last year, and can wait a bit longer rather than shopping just before or just after the return to school, then it is worth doing so.

Retailers are known to ramp up the prices towards the end of August, while promoting “deals” which just result in pressuring consumers to spend more than they need to. So waiting for a few weeks or a month after the start of September could result in spending less. 

Photo by Matt Ragland