3 ways to get the kids back to school & avoid the budget blues

Posted February 2018

getting ready back to school

Our favourite back to school hacks for the year ahead

Did you hear that sound?

That was the collective sigh of relief from Kiwi parents as the hectic holidays draw to a close.

Oh, no no! Don’t take it the wrong way. Of course, we all love our kids.

But you’re definitely not alone if you’re left wondering:

Have the holidays always been this long?!

That other sound is the collective gasp from those same parents taking stock of the school supplies, books, and other bits and pieces they’ll need for the year ahead.

It can be a pretty shocking figure once you’ve calculated the costs!

To say you might need to borrow a little money to cover the costs might sound dramatic, but it isn't far from the truth. In fact, many Kiwi households struggle this time of year as their budgets are already stretched thin. 

It’s enough to give you a case of the back-to-school blues.

Thankfully, we have the cure. That’s why today we’re sharing our 3 favourite back-to-school budget tips that’ll keep you, your kids, and your bank balance happy. This includes:

  • How to save money on school lunches with a foolproof menu plan.
  • Why a scavenger hunt will ensure stationery and books aren’t the banes of your existence. 
  • What shopping second-hand can do for cutting the costs of school uniforms and equipment.

To start, though? Let’s make a list...

Before you begin - make a list, and check it twice

Woah, hold up there!

Enthusiasm is great - or is that a hint of desperation we’re seeing in your eyes? - but before you start, it’s time to take stock. That’s right: it’s time to write a list.

The holiday season may be long gone, but making a list and checking it twice is a great way to keep track of the back-to-school supplies you’ll need for the year ahead.

Not only that but shopping with a list will:

  • Help you save money! One survey found that 57% of people who shopped with a list spent less. 
  • Stick to your spending limits! By knowing what you need, you can stick a dollar figure on the day out and ensure you stick to it.

By now, your kids' school will have supplied a pretty comprehensive list.

If not? Get in touch and find out:

  1. Whether they’ll need to provide their own stationery.
  2. Whether there’s a dress code and an official school uniform.
  3. Whether there’s likely to be any additional expenses, such as school trips or sports clubs.

List ready? Then let’s go shopping...

Bonus Hack: Get the kids involved!
Back to school time is the perfect opportunity to get the kids involved and teach them important financial lessons about savings, budgets, and the differences between 'wants' and 'needs'.

Back To School Hack #1: Save on snacks with a lunch menu plan

school lunches

Here’s one we prepared earlier!

Or should that be, you prepared earlier?

Puns aside, a menu plan is something every money-conscious household should be using. It’s a great way to save money, eat healthily, and put a stop to the tiresome “Soooo, what’s for dinner?!”. It’s also a sensible solution to those school lunch struggles.

You know, the ones that sound a little like this:

You’ve missed the alarm and now you’re running late. Heck, the bus will be pulling up any minute now. Staring into an empty lunch box, you grab a handful of whatever’s closest or, worse, hand over $20 you don’t really have to spare so your kids can grab something from the cafeteria.

With a lunch plan, you’ll be able to cut out the stress of last-minute lunch rushes and:

  • Save money on expensive cafeteria food or snacks picked up on the way to school. 
  • Ensure your kids eat healthy by knowing exactly what’s going into their lunchboxes.

Bonus Hack: Before you shop!
Save a little more by sitting down each weekend and planning your kids’ lunch menu. By doing this before your weekly shop, you’ll only buy the stuff you know you need, and not an item more!

Back To School Hack #2: Go on a supplies scavenger hunt

school stationery

It can be tempting to buy new every year, but there’s really no need.

Believe it or not, we bet you already have a bunch of school supplies lying around your house.

Go on. Take a moment to check your kids’ drawers, desk, or even down the back of the couch.

We’ll wait!

Back? Great. How many pens, pencils, and other odds and ends did you manage to find?

We’d love to know!

Our point is, you (more than anyone else) will know that kids just love:

  1. Losing stuff.
  2. Losing stuff in the craziest, strangest, or weirdest places.

So before you stock up on new pens and pencils, set off on a scavenger hunt and see what remains of last year’s supplies. We think you'll be surprised at what you find! 

Bonus Hack: Spread the costs around!
Just because you can't afford everything on your list, doesn't mean you should pull out your credit card and go into debt. Instead, grab the items you need, save some money, and pick up the rest as the year goes on. 

Back To School Hack #3: Cut clothing costs and shop second-hand

kids school clothes shopping

Hands up those of you who wore hand-me-downs as a kid.

Chances are, more than a few of you wore your siblings’ uniforms to school.

Sure, kids might roll their eyes at them nowadays. It’s just not cool, dad. You don’t get me!

But with tight budgets, shopping for second-hand clothing is one of the most cost-effective ways to get kitted out for the school year.

Local thrift stores, second-hand shops, and garage sales are a great place to start. Make a habit of checking these at the end of the school year, as families offload uniforms they no longer need.

Failing that? Head online and check TradeMe, or local Buy / Sell / Swap groups on Facebook.

Kids grow up fast - and need new uniforms even faster - so why not do a little sensible shopping and save more than a few cents with some second-hand bargain hunting?

Bonus Hack: Bling it up!
Generic workbooks and pencil cases are a great way to save money, but they can still look the part. Set aside some time and let your kids' imaginations run wild as they decorate their pens, pencils, notebooks, and folders.

Say goodbye to the back to school blues 

Back to school can be a stressful time for any Kiwi parent.

With your kids embarking on the next step in their life, you want to be there for it. You don't want to be distracted by how you're going to afford everything they'll need for the year ahead.

That's why with a little planning, preparation, and an eye for a bargain, you can turn that frown upside down and kick those budget blues to the curb. You'll have more time to enjoy this momentous occasion with your kids, save some cash, and cut out the stress in the process.


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The article published on this page is not financial advice and should not be relied upon as such. The opinions published in this article is not those of Unity Credit Union.