Get the kids back to school on a budget
August is an expensive month for families with days out, relentless shouts of ‘I’m hungry’ and back to school costs all rolled into four weeks.
A survey carried out by Money Wellness found that 97% of the parents it spoke to – already struggling with debt – were worried about being able to afford new uniform.
With 11% saying they’d pay for back-to-school costs with credit and a further 11% relying on both second-hand clothing and saving throughout the year to cover the cost.
Just 3% said they’d successfully applied for a grant to help cover the cost of uniform.
With many families worrying about how to fund their back-to-school costs, we’ve put together some helpful ways to keep spending to a minimum.
School uniform grants are handed out to low-income families by their local council. They’re worth up to £150 per child but how much you get, and if you qualify, depends on where you live and your council’s criteria.
One council could offer nothing, another £30 and a third £150 because the government hasn’t set fixed rules.
How they’re paid also differs with some councils transferring money into your bank account, others reimbursing you once you’ve bought uniform or offering vouchers.
School uniform grants – if there’s one available to you – are typically offered to children who receive free school meals or whose parents claim means-tested benefits, such as universal credit.
However, they can sometimes also be offered to families who don’t receive school meals, providing they can prove they’re facing financial hardship.
If you’re eligible for a school uniform grant, you’ll be able to claim it for each child but will be restricted to claiming once every school year.
Ian Somerset, Chief Executive of Money Wellness, said: “Reform is desperately needed because school uniform grants are a total lottery – inadequate at best and non-existent at worst. One family in one area could receive £150 worth of help, while another family a few miles away might get nothing.
“It’s time the government recognised that this isn’t acceptable and it’s letting down the poorest families in society at a time when they need help the most. We’re calling for a meaningful change to the system so that low-income families can be confident about what they’ll receive, regardless of where they live.
To find out what your local council is offering, visit their website. You can find who your local council at www.gov.uk
PTA’s and charity grants
PTA’s are the fountain of all knowledge and put the money raised from all those cake sales and summer fairs to good use. Check with your school’s parent teacher association (PTA) to see if they can provide any financial help. You’ll usually be able to get their contact details from the school office or on the school website.
There’re lots of charities that also run their own grants to help struggling families. You can check out what support is available at www.educational-grants.org.
Children grow quickly and parents often have to replace their school uniform several times before the end of term. Lots of school clothing has more wear left in it so it’s always wise to shop around.
Young Planet is a great place to start – it’s an app where parents donate children’s items to help other children. There’re hundreds of pre-owned, lightly worn or used items – and lots of uniform – all looking for a new home. What’s more it’s free.
You could also check out Facebook marketplace to see if local parents have any old uniform available or see if your school has set up a dedicated website or resource to sell on pre-owned uniform. Schools are required to make sure second-hand uniform is available to all parents and should clearly signpost you to their second-hand scheme.
Alternatively, it might be worth checking out charity shops. Lots of local parents donate their old uniform to charity. Some high street brands also donate brand new uniform to charity shops so you might be able to pick up a bargain.
The government brought in guidance in 2021 on how schools should keep the cost of uniform down. From last September, schools were required to remove unnecessary branded items to provide space for cheaper supermarket own-label items.
To comply with this guidance, some schools now allow you to buy cheaper own-brand items such as blazers, tops and jumpers and will sell logo patches to sew on. It’s definitely worth checking with your school to see if they have this policy in place.
Children are prone to misplacing and losing things - label everything that goes into school from uniforms to stationery, water bottles to laptops.
It’s wise to invest in good quality name labels – either stick on, sew on or iron on. School uniform and stationery is expensive, and you can reduce the amount that needs replacing by making sure it’s well labelled.
It’s not just younger children who lose things. Make sure high school pupils’ items are also labelled so they can be easily found and retrieved from lost property.
Utilise stationery and equipment you have at home
Stationery is often an expense that’s overlooked, but pens, pencils, protractors, calculators, and compasses soon mount up. Check out draws at home and audit what you’ve got - you probably have pretty much everything you need around the house. Make sure it’s also name-labelled so it doesn’t end up going missing.
If you’re child has special educational needs or disabilities, you might be eligible for funding to help towards the cost of buying a computer or laptop to help with their education. To find more details on what’s available from your local council and its eligibility criteria, visit their website.
If you don’t qualify for school lunches it might be worth weighing up how much it’ll cost you to make a packed lunch each day Vs the price of school food. You might be able to make savings by sending your children in with food each day rather than paying for school dinners.
You might be able to get help with the costs of sending your child to school if your school is more than two miles away and your child is under 8, or three miles away if your child is 8 or over.
You may also qualify if there’s no safe walking route between your home and school or they can’t walk there because of special education needs, disability or mobility problems.
If your child doesn’t qualify for free school transport for these reasons, they might still be able to sue the scheme for free if you’re on a low income.
Alternatively, why not speak to other local parents to see if you can get a carpool going so you can share drop offs and pick-ups.
Or find out if your school is participating in a walking scheme where children can walk with their friends safely to school.
Caroline has worked in financial communications for more than 10 years, writing content on subjects such as pensions, mortgages, loans and credit cards, as well as stockbroking and investment advice.
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