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How to save on back-to-school costs

How to save on back-to-school costs

The beginning of a new school year can be an exciting time, but back-to-school costs can stress parents and place a strain on the family budget.

The Australian Scholarships Group (ASG), an independent friendly society specialising in education savings programmes in New Zealand for 15 years and Australia for 32 years, urges parents to do their homework when it comes to budgeting for back-to-school costs in order to save money.

"Feedback from ASG members indicates many parents are still recovering from the expenses of Christmas," says ASG managing director, Terry O’Connell.

"Education expenses such as school enrolment fees and levies, uniforms, transport costs, lunches, and supplies add up and can send family budgets into the red unless parents put strategies in place to cope with the costs and then manage the ongoing costs.

"As the costs of lifetime education spiral upwards, implementing small savings disciplines can make a big impact on the total cost of a child's education," Terry O’Connell said.

To help parents plan for back-to-school costs, ASG has compiled tips to keep the costs under control and increase the financial literacy of the whole family.

1. Involve all the family and make back-to-school preparations fun

*Encourage all the family to get involved in the back-to-school preparations and create a fun atmosphere so that budgeting and saving is an enjoyable activity

*This encourages awareness of the costs associated with everyday items among children and greater responsibility for their use.

*Help children understand that saving in one area can allow you to afford family rewards in another area, such as holidays.

2. Get organised and control your finances

*Writing lists is a great way to get organised.

*Identify the fees and costs associated with school for each of your children.

*Then identify their back-to-school needs. In general, children will have two sorts of needs for back-to-school - the list of requirements issued by the school, including textbooks and specific supplies and more general materials such as stationery items.

*Uniform and tool requirements such as PCs vary from school to school (see below for special tips).

"By being organised before you buy anything, you're less likely to fall into the overspending trap. Make sure you have your list of the new school year requirements on hand," Terry O’Connell explained.

3. Prioritise your expenses and your needs

*Cover immediate - and essential - needs like school enrolment fees and any special required items first.

*From your list of requirements, identify what are your must-haves before the school year begins and what you can postpone until later in the year.

*Check that everything on your list is a genuine need rather than a wanted item.

4. Make an inventory of what you already have

*Check what you already have that can be used from the previous year before you hit the shops.

*Set aside outgrown, but still usable items, for others in the family or for donation.

*Don't forget to check around the house to see if anything can be transferred from one use to another. For example, you might have pens and pads around the house that your children can use at school.

5. Develop a budget

*Having assessed the school needs of your children, develop a budget allocation for each and stick to it.

"Ensure your budget is realistic or you'll sabotage all your good work to date," said Terry O’Connell, "by involving teenage children in the budgeting process you'll encourage their financial awareness assisting them to handle money responsibly in the future".

6. Shop around

*Do your homework to ensure you are getting the best value for money on your purchases.

*Check out a few different sources (variety of retail outlets, schools) and ask other parents for buying tips.

*If you have Internet access, you can shop around easily over the web; alternatively ‘let your fingers do the walking’ and telephone around to compare prices.

"Work out what items you are prepared to pay top dollar for - cheaper versions are just as likely to satisfy their needs," said Terry O’Connell.

7. Buy it new cheaper

* Check out discount stores for great value on everyday items.

* Consider buying from several different stores as their advertised specials may represent a great buy but their prices on other goods may not.

* Join with other parents in your neighbourhood and buy in bulk as bulk buying can reduce costs to almost wholesale prices.

* Don't forget to check out online purchasing options over the web for bargains.

"More and more parents are becoming astute buyers using a variety of options available for purchasing new goods and access to the Internet is making savvy buying increasingly available," Terry O’Connell said.

8. Buy it second-hand

* Investigate second-hand bookstores, library and garage sales, school exchanges and co-ops, local newspaper advertisements and Trade Me ( ) to purchase second-hand school goods for your children.

"Shopping second-hand can be great fun and is a growing trend, as evidenced by the success of Trade Me and many of the recycled clothing and equipment outlets.

9. Uniforms

*Do shop around for school uniform requirements, just as you would for other purchases.

*Consider buying the more expensive items, such as blazers second-hand through school exchanges or co-ops or online.

*Put off purchasing all the uniform requirements at the beginning of the year - purchase the winter uniform later and the sports uniform requirements if your child makes a team.

*Reduce the number of items you buy as part of your child's school uniform, such as shirts and launder more frequently. You can purchase additional items as the school year progresses, if needed.

*Buy the more costly uniform items a size or two larger to allow growing room for your child.

"The purchasing of required uniforms can represent one of the most costly areas of expenditure especially for children attending independent schools where choice is largely restricted," Terry O’Connell explained.

10. Computers

Increasingly some schools are suggesting that students have their own laptops.

*If your child’s school does recommend a laptop, check the specifications of the school's suggested laptop as you may be able to hand down your current laptop to your child and upgrade your own model.

*Some schools have computer rental packages that may prove a more prudent method of supplying your child with a laptop and enable you to spread the payments over the course of the year.

*Compare online laptop computer packages with the school recommended models to ensure value.

"Some schools require their students to have laptop or notebook computers. This purchase can be an expensive trap as computers represent one of the most costly back-to-school items and can have a short-term life because the technology is often superseded very quickly," Terry O’Connell advises, "it really pays parents to investigate their purchasing or leasing options to ensure they make informed choices."

11. General recommendations

*Check shops' return policies and/or guarantees before buying.

*Weigh up quality versus price. An item isn't a bargain if it falls apart after the first use.

*Go easy on the credit cards or any savings you make will be eaten up by credit charges.

*Record your spending and save your receipts so you can budget better for next year.

*Go simple - encourage your kids to walk to school and make their lunches.

ASG provides a range of education savings programmes that help parents plan for their children's future education using the benefits of collective mutual pooling, beginning from as little as $7 per week. For more information about ASG and its programmes, phone 09 366 7670 or visit:


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