Back-to-school costs can be high depending on the number of children you have, their ages, and the type of school they attend. Hardest of all is that the outgoings hit just as your bank balance is recovering from Christmas.
We want our kids to be aptly equipped with everything they need for the new school year but keeping costs down is a priority, especially as a single parent.
Whether you solo parent or co-parent, back-to-school can feel more costly and complicated than when you were partnered. For this reason, we’ve put together a list of ideas to save money whilst ensuring your children have everything they need to start the new school year with confidence.
SHARE THE COST
Back-to-school is expensive, but even more so if you are paying for it on your own. Unless you are sole parenting and have legally taken onboard all financial responsibilities for your children, the cost for school clothes and equipment should be shared between you and the other parent.
Hopefully this is already set up through parenting/consent orders or covered by child support. If not, work out the best way for you and your ex-partner to share the costs. Note: Child support will cover basic school costs but not all, such as expensive after-school activities.
Back-to-school is ongoing so it is well worth getting a plan in place for how it will work each year to avoid confusion and possible arguments that will put a strain on your co-parenting relationship. For ex-couples with high conflict, mediation or legal support might be required.
DON’T DOUBLE BUY
The common mistake when co-parenting school children is both parents buying the same items, hence pricey doubling up.
In some cases, it can help to have an extra set of school uniforms for each house, but often, if you and the other parent are organised at change-over, it can be avoided.
For example, if each co-parent agrees to wash the school uniform before the handover, there is no need to have an extra set at the other house.
It can also help if you draw up a list of school items that need to be packed for handover that both parents can refer to. This will avoid items being forgotten and extras needing to be purchased.
When it comes to back-to-school costs as a co-parent, being organised can limit the amount you need to spend by double buying.
Further reading: 7 Ways to make co-parenting changeovers work for the kids (and you).
If both parents head out on a mission to buy back-to-school gear for the kids without communicating with each other on the matter, it’s going to be pricey.
Where possible, arrange between you who will buy what. This can be as simple as one parent buying everything and keeping the receipts to prove spending amounts to settle the outgoings fairly. Alternatively, mum could buy the school uniform and dad get the other equipment such as stationery, lunch boxes, water bottles, etc.
Not only will working together on the mammoth task of preparing your kids for the new school year save you money but it will also save time.
Our kids love everything to be brand new and sparkly on the first day of school, but this is not always possible.
One or both parents can work through old school uniforms and equipment to see what can be re-used instead of purchasing brand new when it is not necessary.
It might be that school formal shoes need to be replaced but the runners have another six months in them.
Check through pencil cases that made it home from school the previous year because it could save you buying new pencils and pens if you don’t need them. Don’t automatically buy the suggested school book pack before checking what you already have. It takes time to mark the items you need individually but it will save money and you won’t end up with three calculators by the time your child reaches Year 6.
SPREAD THE PURCHASING
You might feel pressured to buy everything ready for Day No.1 of a new school year but you really don’t need to.
Spread the cost of school uniforms by purchasing summer clothes only and getting winter items as the weather cools down. Don’t rush ahead and buy sports clothing until the season starts … you never know, your child might change their mind and want to play a different sport requiring a different uniform.
If you and your ex-partner choose to spread the cost throughout the year as opposed to buying in one hit, decide how this will work. You could set up a joint bank account for school costs only and get one another’s permission before using it. Or, buy items when needed and share receipts to get half the amount from the other parent. That is if child support or a parenting order does not already dictate back-to-school spending.
One of the very best ways to save money when it comes to back-to-school costs is to name every single school item you buy for your child.
By this, we mean all school uniforms including shoes and most especially hats. Hats get lost within hours and can be expensive, especially at private schools. Also, name all stationery equipment down to erasers and sharpeners. Alongside school bags, pack-lunch boxes, and water bottles.
Not only does naming everything save you money by minimising the cost of replacing lost items but it will help your child stay organised and better equipped for their school term.
Further reading: Your simple guide to co-parenting with primary school children.