Last updated on Jun 21st, 2021 at 12:28 pm

With schools returning later than usual in February, now is the time to think about putting some money aside to cover the costs of starting the new school year.

Nozizwe Fakude, Head of Customer Insights at DirectAxis, and a mother of one, says with schools starting later parents who haven’t planned ahead could find themselves under financial pressure when they need to fork out for uniforms, stationery and other back-to-school expenses at the end of January.

“It’s also worth considering that January will be a very long month for some families as many companies paid December salaries early, so the December paycheque has to stretch further. Add to this the fact that this year bonuses will be smaller, if they’re paid at all.”

By anticipating back-to-school expenses parents can budget now and spread the costs rather than having to buy everything at once at the end of January.

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Another advantage of thinking ahead is that you can shop when it suits you and when prices are best. For example, you might be able to pick up some items in the post-Christmas sales.

DirectAxis spoke to some parents and teachers, who had the following suggestions to help manage back-to-school finances and avoid unnecessary expenses.

Avoid last-minute surprises

Before the uniform gets bundled into the wash and hung back in the cupboard, check to see if it’ll last another term. Do the same with shoes, school bag and inventory the stationery. This ensures that you only buy what is really needed.

Make a list

Studies show that people who shop without a list can spend up to 23% more. Find out from the school or other parents exactly what your child needs for the next year and by when. They may not need everything in the first term. Try to get as much detail as possible, so you don’t waste money buying the wrong thing. Cross off the list anything you already have.

Set a budget

Unless your child is just starting school or moving from primary to high school you should have some idea of what you spent the previous year. Alternatively, ask other parents what they typically spend. Using this, your inventory of what they already have and the list of what is required should give you a good idea of how much you’ll need to spend. Once you’ve got a budget, stick to it. It may be an idea to involve your child. Agreeing the list of requirements and what the budget is may prevent them asking for everything they see when you go shopping. If they do, it makes it easier to say no.

Score second-hand savings

Children can quickly grow out of jerseys and blazers. If the school has a second-hand shop you may be able to find good quality second-hand items there. Alternatively talk to other parents who have children who are older or leaving school and ask if they have any uniforms they want to sell.

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Seek out savings

Look for opportunities to save money. Some schools provide a discount on school fees if these are paid in a lump sum at the beginning of the year. The same may apply to bus fares. If you are able, try to take advantage of these savings. The recent increase to Level 3 lockdown, gives you a good reason to shop online, where it is often easier to compare prices and you have access to discount vouchers.

Don’t be tricked by what’s trendy

Children can be very brand conscious and may want something because it’s trendy and consequently more expensive, rather than because they need it. This can be true of shoes, sports gear and particularly technology. Many schools require children to have tablets or laptops and most children want top-end technology that comes at a price. Rather find out the specifications of what is required and what the equipment is being used for. This will help you decide what’s most appropriate. If in doubt, ask the teachers or other parents, rather than a computer salesperson, what offers the best value or what most children use.

If your child does require a tablet, laptop or other device or new sports equipment, consider buying it as an early birthday present.

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Set a little aside

Inevitably there’ll be some expenses that the school didn’t warn you about or which you forgot. If you can, put some money aside to cover these unexpected items.

“Most of the people we spoke to agreed that planning ahead, making a list, setting a budget, actively looking for savings and spreading expenses over time are the best ways of reducing back-to-school stress,” says Nozizwe.