How to do back to school on a budget this year

Christmas might be the biggest-spending time of year for many families and retailers, but not far behind is a day that’s just two weeks away – when kids return to the classroom.

Back-to-school costs families around $630 per child, on average, up by around $100 from last year, according to department store Big W’s latest research.

While Christmas is an expensive time of the year, parents everywhere are bracing for another costly period this month.Credit:iStock

It’s a market worth over $2 billion, and that’s why the likes of Big W, Officeworks and Aldi are fighting hard for the attention of mums and dads this week.

So here’s my back-to-school money-saving guide for parents who want to pay as little as possible.

Think second-hand (even for devices!)

There’s a four-letter word that fills parents with dread at this time of the year: ‘BYOD’. Not only does ‘bring your own device’ mean you have to choose from hundreds of options, but it’s also expensive.

You can search for discounts on new devices using sites such as Google Shopping, Little Birdie or OzBargain.

But if you’re on a budget – or you just don’t want your 12-year-old carrying around a $1500 device in their backpack – check out the range of refurbished devices available. Apple, Samsung and Kogan offer them, as do specialist sites such as Reebelo. They come with the standard one-year warranty under Australian Consumer Law, but you can extend it for a year for about $60 extra.

They’ve been checked over, serviced and re-packaged – sometimes with new parts such as screens, cords and adapters. We’ve bought refurbished iPads in the past that lasted for years, and this year we got a 2017 Macbook Air for $600.

Hand-me-downs and handouts

NSW is offering $150 in back-to-school vouchers this year, which is a no-brainer for parents. In Victoria, the State Schools’ Relief charity helps families doing it tough. For school uniforms, start by asking friends with older siblings or school Facebook and WhatsApp groups if anyone has clothes they’ve grown out of.

Cash in on competition

Make the most of the intense rivalry between retailers right now.

Officeworks has cornered the market on convenience. They have a service where you can upload your school items list, and it will then compile a bag for you, and you can click and collect it. They will also price-beat anything on the list that is cheaper elsewhere by 20 per cent if you show them an ad from another store – but it must be the same product.

If you want to pay as little as possible, though, Aldi has released its school ‘special buys’ range in the past week. You can see it in the January 11 catalogue online, or pop into a store for $25 leather shoes, $15 backpacks and so on.

Big W also offers cheap clothes, lunchboxes, drink bottles and bulk packs of stationery – with the added bonus that you can get 10 per cent off the lot if you’re a member of Woolies’ Everyday Extra subscription service. For $7 a month or $59 a year, you get 10 per cent off your first Woolies and Big W shop each month so make it a big one such as this, and you’ll get your money’s worth.

​​Most retailers also deliver, so you can do your shopping and comparing online and have it delivered. Use Google Shopping to check if there is a cheaper price for a product you want, and try browser plug-ins such as Similar and Honey, which scan the internet for cheaper prices, coupon codes and promo codes.

  • Advice given in this article is general in nature and is not intended to influence readers’ decisions about investing or financial products. They should always seek their own professional advice that takes into account their own personal circumstances before making any financial decisions.

Joel Gibson is a Money columnist, TODAY regular and author of EASY MONEY: 7 Steps to Bust Your Bills (Simon & Schuster, $29.99).

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