Skint Dad’s top 10 back to school tips

posted by in Budgeting

Our pal Ricky Willis A.K.A. Skint Dad has written a great guide to getting full marks on all the back to school essentials – over to you, Ricky!

Are you ready for the back to school rush?

Are you ready for the back to school rush?

With September and ‘back to school’ rearing its head, my mind begins to wander towards autumn mornings, wet leaves lining the roads, and hauling myself out of bed while wishing the alarm would just leave me be! 

Every year, without fail, the start of the school term manages to sneak up on me.

Even though I knew it was coming, it always feels light years away when you’re in the throes of summer fun with the kids.

With so many different things to pay out for, here are my top ten tips to ensure you’re top of the class on school savings!

1. Uniforms

Shoes, socks, trousers, shirts and jumpers…it all adds up! Fortunately, the large food stores are selling an entire school uniform this year for just £4 – yes £4! That can really help when stretching the pennies, but the clothes only go up to ‘age 11’.

If you have older children, the high street is practically bursting with bargains. I recommend checking with a store that everything you need is in stock before traipsing around. There’s little worse than a wasted summer’s afternoon you could have spent mucking around with the kids!

Buying online also means getting cashback on your purchases through TopCashback or Quidco. You could even use a voucher code from Savoo to get a further discount too. Let’s just hope no holes appear in elbows and knees a few days into the start of term!

2. School dinners

According to The Children’s Society, the average family spends £437 on school lunches per child over a year. Making packed lunches yourself could bring the cost of lunch times down.

Rather than a sandwich every day, try making some pasta the night before. Making it in bulk allows for everyone in the house to have it for lunch the next day and means avoiding a morning panic.

3. Activities

It became an inside joke in our household last year that each week there would be a new letter from the school asking for money. I’m sure you know the drill: whether it was for a school trip, a cooking class, or an endless spate of fundraisers, the school can never seem to stop rattling the tin!

I find that the best way to deal with these ‘unexpected letters’ is to put a little aside each week. Even putting aside a quid a week will soon add up. If things are tight, a letter to the school asking to split the cost over a few weeks, rather than paying in a lump sum, or even asking for the fee to be waived, are options. Lots of parents are struggling nowadays and many schools are aware of this and will try to help. Don’t be afraid to ask.

4. Children’s parties

As our little ones grow, so do their social calendars – and my munchkins seem to have more dates in their diary than I do! Birthday parties are great fun but some months can hurt more than others (especially for the parent who is throwing the party). It’s tougher still when you get a flurry of birthdays all in one month!

If your child’s attending the party and needs to provide a gift, try stockpiling pressies in advance during the sale seasons or special 3 for 2 events. Keep toys stored in the back of a cupboard or under the bed and you won’t find yourself running to the toy shop an hour before the party starts (or is that just me?!).

If you’re throwing the party, and have enough space, consider hosting at home or seeing if a lovely family member would do the honours. The immediate benefits are that you don’t have to hire a costly venue and have more control over the catering. Try to cook from scratch and you can make party games yourself. Check out Inner Child Fun’s guide on how to turn after party tidying into a game!

5. Head lice

I know, I know, I’ve come out of left field just a tad here by bringing up head lice, but hear ol’ Skint Dad out on this one, okay?

These little critters seem to make an annual visit to our house which leaves me scratching my own head for days! A small bottle of head lice remover can set you back around £10. If you do decide to buy the medicated lice remover, try to buy in stores with reward cards so you can collect points on your purchases.

Alternatively, to keep the costs down, you could forgo the special shampoo and comb them out with a lice comb. It will take a little longer to get rid of them, but at a snip of the cost. MumsNet has even more great tips on how to rid the kids of their unwanted guests.

6. The school run

Swapping the car for either walking or riding a bike could save up to £642 a year, according to the charity Sustrans. Not only will ditching the car be better for the wallet but you’ll be doing your bit for the environment and getting a bit of exercise too. Take a scenic route and get some cheeky family snapshots on the way!

7. Childcare

While I’m in no rush for the kids to grow up, I was quite happy when my middle daughter started big school. I just kept thinking about the mammoth childcare invoice we used to get and how much it used to dent our wages. However, what I didn’t take into account were breakfast and after-school clubs and their costs.

According to the Annual Childcare Costs Survey 2014 (from Family and Childcare Trust), , after school clubs can set you back on average of £48.19 per week or £1,830 per year. If you wanted a child-minder to do the school pick up for you and look after your child for 15 hours per week after school, you’ll look to pay £65.08 per week or £2,470 per year.

While those figures are nowhere near as high as nursery it’s always worth checking if you’re entitled to tax credits or if your employer offers a childcare voucher scheme, where you can claim up to £243 tax free per month for Ofsted registered childcare. 

8. Text books

If you’ve got secondary school age children, you may find that you need to buy more text books as the curriculum advances. There’s no law saying you have to buy them brand new. Ask the school if they have previous editions, or get over to eBay or Amazon to find pre-used books from past students. There’s definitely a bargain to be had!

If the book cover’s looking a bit tatty, try covering it with funky wallpaper or pictures of your kids’ favourite cartoon, popstar or footie player (does anyone else remember doing this?).

9. Extra tuition

I’ve overheard many conversations in the playground about hiring a tutor to help with upcoming exams (yes, even in primary school!). It’s definitely not a must and you don’t have to spend out, but it could set you back around £25 per hour.

If you have the patience why not spend a little extra time helping yourself. Have a look on BBC Bitesize for free ideas and tools to help. Your kids are more likely to want to work out pesky algebra problems with you rather than some random tutor!

10. Equipment

Again, the little bits and bats like pens and lunchboxes can quickly add up, so make sure you shop around and don’t get more than they will actually need. Grab your free printable checklist to keep you on track.

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Though we’ve harped on a bit about how dear it all is, I do love the whole madness of the school run and honestly wouldn’t trade it for the world. When I look back on last year, I don’t really remember the cash at all.

Instead, I remember the good, funny stuff – the smiles from doing homework well, the award for an achievement in class, dropping jam onto a newly ironed school shirt minutes before walking out the door, sleeping through the alarm, getting halfway down the road without the school bag…you know what it’s like.

In conclusion, my advice is this; whatever the new school year throws at you, enjoy every moment – these heady days will be over before you know it!

Ricky aka 'Skint Dad' has been sharing thrifty tips since September 2013. His mantra is all about spending less, cutting back, living frugally but not living without. He won the ‘UK’s Smartest Shopper’ out of thousands of entries. Ricky is father to 3 daughters and fiancée to Naomi, aka Skint Mum.

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  • Kay Weatherley

    In relation to #5 the NHS Minor Ailments Scheme means that participating pharmacists will prescribe head lice treatment (meaning if you normally get free prescriptions it’s free or if you usually pay for prescriptions then you pay the standard prescription charge which may still be a bit cheaper than buying it at commercial price). This scheme covers a wider range of minor illnesses and as all children under 16 qualify to receive them free it can save a lot of money!