It’s getting dark earlier, confused trees are beginning to shed their leaves and the high street is awash with comic sans signs that look like they’ve been written in wax crayon. All this means one thing: Back to School.
Those three words don’t trigger half the amount of doom in children as they do in parents. (Even more so when the phrase ‘Back 2 Skool’ is used – but that’s another post.) No one wants to think about autumn in August. The bombardment of special offers, sweatshirts and set squares makes me want to skive the big school shop – and that’s precisely what I used to do. But after three years of struggling to find what I need and ending up paying over the odds at the eleventh hour, I have realised it pays to be organised.
I got an email from Most Wanted, the magazine of vouchercodes.co.uk, telling me that the average cost of sending a pupil back to school is £121. That seems absolutely ridiculous, especially in the current climate. No wonder so many families can’t afford to kit their children out in the correct uniform. The thing is, I don’t think it should cost anywhere near that if you plan ahead. Most Wanted challenged me to get Tom classroom-ready for £80. A doddle, I thought – and there’ll be change…
Trousers: M&S are as good at school staples as they are at superfood salads and their Outstanding Value Trousers have always served us well. There are a host of supermarkets out there selling trousers without frills which I am sure are just as good, but Tom’s a bit of whippet and the elasticated ones just don’t stay up. These have an adjustable waist, are water and stain resistant and best of all, they never need to go near an iron. These are not just any grey school kecks… Pack of two pairs: £9
Polo Shirts: A white polo shirt is a white polo shirt: after a few months of baked bean juice, paints and playground muck, it takes on a new life as a duster. In the meantime, you don’t want to have spent too much on it. That’s why I am trying Aldi’s this time, at £1.25 for a pack of two. If they’re as good as their Disco Biscuits, they’ll be just fine. Two packs of two: £2.50
Sweatshirts: These can only be bought directly from the school. I haven’t bought any for two years, because I bought Tom a good size up when he started in 2o10. If I can get through the scrum at the receptionist’s hatch on the first day back, they’ll be £8 each (I think.) Ideally, we could do with three as they often get grubby, but I’ll stick to two for now: Two sweatshirts: £16.
Shoes: These are the biggest drain on the school uniform budget. If your child has particularly wide or narrow feet, you can’t afford to scrimp on them. Thankfully, after the breakneck speed at which toddlers’ feet grow, things seem to calm down a bit once children hit school age. I’ve been really lucky with Tom’s last three pairs of school shoes, by Ricosta and Clarks, all of which have lasted a whole year of school sprints and playground scuffs. Unlike girls’ shoes, which seem to come decked in butterflies, petals and fairy lights, boys’ footwear is pretty straightforward, meaning as long as you get the right size, they should be happy. Clarks are now letting you book fitting appointments online, which means no horrible queues and more chance of getting a pair in your child’s size. Getting measured by the pros is an event in itself (although it’s all digital now – I miss those machines that close in on your feet.) One pair, £36
That’s it for us. I’ll probably use the change for a haircut that’s not done by me with the kitchen scissors – and maybe that backup jumper. It can be tempting to buy new underwear, socks and coats to mark the start of a new school year, but if your child doesn’t need them, don’t do it. Tom’s coat and PE kit from last year still fit, he doesn’t need stationery and he has the standard issue book bag from the school.
Ways to save:
Snip name tags off old garments instead of buying new ones (or just use a Sharpie in the first place.)
Buy cheap PE pumps instead of fancy trainers.
Always go for the biggest size you can get away with. If your boy shoots up overnight and ends up with half-mast trousers, snip the ends off and make them into shorts.
Deal in coats on eBay: Quality, warm coats are expensive brand new, but you can usually pick up something markedly cheaper and hardly worn in an auction. Sell your child’s old school coat on there too – you should get a decent price if it’s in good nick.
If you’re really struggling with the cost of school uniform, speak to the school – most have boxes of used items that can be bought for pence. If you are throwing your old stuff out, spare a thought for those who can’t afford new uniform and hand it to the school.
If you’re on low income or benefits and you live in England, you may be entitled to help with the cost of school uniform. Find out more here.
Vouchercodes.co.uk gave us £80 to spend on school uniform.