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Back-to-school shopping hacks that will help you save big

We give you some tips and tricks on how to kit your child out for school whilst staying on budget.

04 September 2017Andre Spiteri 4 min read

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According to recent figures, British parents spend in excess of £1.5 billion on back-to-school shopping - an average of £200 per child. While you might not be able to avoid buying back-to-school necessities, this doesn’t mean you have to break the bank.

1. Stock up on supplies in September

In the run up to the new school year, most retailers go all out and stock up on back-to-school items to meet the high demand. But, come September, the need for school equipment drops. Many already discounted items then go into clearance to make way for new stock.

Even if September is too late for the current school year, you can still build up a stash of notebooks, pens, or even a spare school bag for the following year. Just make sure you remember where you put everything.

2. Shop around for school clothes

School clothes often make up the largest chunk of your back-to-school shopping budget.

Several schools also place restrictions on where you can buy certain items. This can lead to prices that are up to £10 per item more expensive than the high street.

Thankfully, there are ways you can get around this:

Look for deals online

Specialised groups on social media and websites such as School Reviewer and Netmums often have listings for second-hand uniforms and other school equipment.

Check out charity shops

Local charity shops often get uniform donations for the schools in the area, but they won't always be on display in the shop. Ask the shop assistants if they have any items for your child's school in the back. As well as generic items you may be able to find logo-ed items for your child's school.

Buy separately

Sometimes, you have no choice but to buy logo-ed school clothes from specific shops. However, this doesn’t mean you have to buy the rest of your child’s uniform from there too. High street shops and most supermarkets stock plain shirts, trousers, skirts, shoes and more at much cheaper prices.

3. Check if you qualify for government assistance

If you’re struggling to cover school expenses, you may qualify for government assistance. This includes help with school uniform costs as well as free or subsidised transport and free meals.

Uniform grants are offered by fewer councils than a few years ago, but some places are still offering support. For instance, the London Borough of Hackney gives eligible students uniform vouchers worth £100.

You can find out more about government help with school costs here. You can also check whether your local council offers assistance with uniform costs by keying in your postcode into this checker.

4. Cut your textbook spend

Textbooks are often an essential accompaniment to a class or uni course. But they can be pretty pricey and getting your hands on the single copy in the library can be a tough fight to win. But, they’re also one of the easiest ways to cut costs without skimping.

Here are a few tips:

Buy second-hand

Used textbooks are usually quite easy to find.

Charity shops, specialised websites such as AbeBooks and Used Book Search and even Ebay and Amazon stock a wide range of well-priced second-hand textbooks. Many are in reasonably good, if not excellent condition. That said, editions tend to change from time to time. So do check the ISBN number before you buy.

If you're looking for university textbooks, check out your university Facebook groups to connect with students who are selling old textbooks.

Use online stores

If buying second-hand isn’t an option try online stores first. The Book Depository, for example, has free delivery, and Waterstones offers a price-match guarantee.

Of course, watch out for shipping costs, as they can outweigh any savings you stand to make.

Consider ebooks

If your child owns an iPad or a kindle - or even just a laptop - consider buying textbooks in ebook format. Plus, it'll save those aches and pains that come from carrying heavy books around all day. Just make sure you check the school's policy on using tech in class.

It may also be a good idea to get these gadgets insured if you'll be carrying them around. If you damage them (or leave them in a 9am lecture) then you'll be covered.

5. Spread larger costs with a 0% purchase credit card

Of course, laptops, iPads, ebook readers and other big-ticket items can be expensive, even if you buy them on sale. Many shops offer the option of monthly repayments, but these arrangements usually attract interest. This means you’ll pay more in the long run.

This is where a 0% purchase credit card can come in handy.

As the name suggests, these types of credit card don’t charge interest for a set period of time, typically as an introductory offer. So, you can split the cost of a purchase over a number of months at no additional cost. Just make sure to make your payments on time and pay your full balance off before the offer period ends.

You can also check if you qualify for a 0% card, without affecting your credit score, on your Offers page.

6. Back-to-school doesn't have to just be for your children

Retailers often offer big promotions during back-to-school season, but these often aren't limited solely to textbooks and blazers. You can often find savings on a number of items including laptops and headphones on sites like Amazon, or clothing shops like ASOS have run seasonal deals in the past.

Once you've stocked up on the essentials all that's left is to get back into the swing of the school run.

Andre Spiteri Image

Written by Andre Spiteri

Financial Writer

Andre is a former lawyer turned award-winning finance writer.