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Back to school costs push families into the red PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 04 September 2017
Parents who increasingly have to fork out for iPads, extracurricular activities and uniforms when their children go back to school, are being advised to budget carefully to avoid being pulled into a cycle of debt.  

PayPlan, a free debt advice provider, says that while the price of uniforms has been driven down in recent years, families still have to pay out for tech equipment, branded blazers and sports kits, as well as sport, music and after-school clubs.

According to research from Nationwide*, the average cost of going back to school in 2016 was £186.24 per child, with clothing and shoes accounting for the biggest spend.

Jane Clack, money adviser at PayPlan and chair of the Institute of Money Advisers (IMA) warned that the high costs could compound debt problems for householders already struggling financially:

“September has always been an expensive time of year for parents who need to kit out growing children with new uniforms, coats and shoes. Of course, technology like iPads and laptops can really help pupils with their studies, but there’s no denying that it comes at a cost to parents, who may have to take out a loan or use a credit card to pay for it.

“All this comes at a time when a lot of families are seeing their finances squeezed because of the summer holidays when they had to spend more money entertaining the kids as well as paying for childcare.

“We shouldn’t forget that winter is just around the corner, so once back to school season is over, people may find themselves with higher energy bills and the expense of Christmas. Wherever possible, it makes sense to be frugal now and plan ahead.”

To help you save money and avoid getting into debt this autumn, Jane has compiled this list of tips:

Look out for buys from the budget supermarkets – including Aldi and Lidl’s complete kit for just £3.75. This can be a cost-effective option when your kids are growing quickly and you need to replace clothing in a few months’ time, but bear in mind that low cost doesn’t necessarily equal good quality. I always suggest speaking to other parents to find out what they recommend.

Know what you can claim
Speak to your local council to see whether your child is eligible for free school meals and remember too that there are other grants to help with clothing costs.

Speak to your child’s teacher about what your child really needs for their studies, rather than what they tell you. It might be that, instead of an iPad, you can buy a cheaper tablet that will do the job just as well. If a more expensive device is needed, ask the school whether you may be eligible for a grant and/or if you can spread the cost over the year rather than paying upfront on a credit card. Just remember to enquire about any potential interest that you might incur on these payments.

The cost of public transport can soon escalate, so explore the alternatives. Does your school run a ‘walking bus’ or could you start a car club with other parents, taking it in turns to ferry a group of children there and back each day?

What else can help?
There are some obvious measures like doing an inventory of all your children’s uniforms to make sure you are not replacing garments that could still be used for another year. If your child has simply grown out of a uniform, but it is still in good condition, see if you can sell it via the school or online. Finally, if you do need to take out a small loan, consider using a credit union rather than a bank because the interest is usually much lower.

Seek professional advice to pay down your existing debt and you should be on track to start the school year with a healthier bank balance.

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