How to save on back-to-school shopping was originally a paid collaborative post in conjunction with My Voucher Codes back in 2018 and updated in 2022. I would love to think that I am an organised Mum but half the time I am a fly-by-the-seat of my pants mum, however, when it comes to saving money I am on it! Raising children is expensive and any penny I can save means that I can spend it somewhere else, preferably on something fun.
One of our biggest expenses on an annual basis is the dreaded back-to-school shop (school uniforms and school supplies). I would love to say that as the boys’ have got older it has got less expensive but alas it wouldn’t be true. What has happened is I have learned ho to purchase for back to school effectively and efficiently to get the most for my money. Both of the boys’ are now in adult-sized shoes (which you pay VAT on). They also have very clear ideas about what they do and don’t like. Like me they both adore stationery and My Voucher codes have some great discounts from retailers such as Paperchase, WHSmith, Ryman, The Works and PC World. Making those essential items you need or the new school year cheaper.
So after over thirteen years of back to school shopping, I am something of an expert on getting the best value school stuff from a number of shops. I thought I would share with you my top tips.
In November 2021 the UK government issued new statutory guidance for schools on the cost of school uniforms
The main points are:
Parents should not have to think about the cost of a school uniform when choosing which school(s) to apply for. Therefore, schools need to ensure that their uniform is affordable.
In considering cost, schools will need to think about the total cost of school uniforms, taking into account all items of uniform or clothing parents will need to provide while their child is at the school.
Schools should keep the use of branded items to a minimum.
A school’s uniform policy should be published on the school’s website, be available for all parents, including parents of prospective pupils, and be easily understood.
Schools should ensure that their uniform supplier arrangements give the highest priority to cost and value for money (including the quality and durability of the garment).
Single supplier contracts should be avoided unless regular tendering competitions are run where more than one supplier can compete for the contract and where the best value for money is secured. This contract should be retendered at least every 5 years.
Schools should ensure that second-hand uniforms are available for parents to acquire. Information on second-hand uniforms should be clear for parents of current and prospective pupils and published on the school’s website.
Schools should engage with parents and pupils when they are developing their school uniform policy.
Brilliant Back to School Money-Saving Tips
Part of the reason I seem organised is that I have a set order and annual shopping list for back to school shopping. And guess what? I am willing to let you into my secrets.
First up – Sell it on. Whatever this looks like for you – I have done car boot sales and sold on Vinted, eBay and Facebook marketplace. Sell what you no longer need or use to add to the pot for the coming year. When kids are small they grow so fast, that often my children would outgrow shoes rather than wear them out. So it makes sense to get the most out of these items and if there are in a good condition with plenty of wear left then sell them.
Make a shopping list and stick to it. Knowing what I need for the boys makes shopping so much easier and also stops me from buying things that they do not need. I work with an annual supply list, so if I see something cheaper in the sales then I buy it and set it aside when I need it, this works really well for supplies such as notebooks, backpacks, pens, erasers and pencils as they don’t grow out of them. I am not going to lie my boys loved a visit to Smiggle so keep an eye out in the sale or for coupons and special offers
Shop what you have. Once I know what I need then I shop the boys’ wardrobes. I pass down anything that I can and see what will last another year. There is no point in buying things if they do not need them.
Second Hand is not second best. Does your school have a second-hand uniform sale? Children grow like weeds so often second-hand uniforms can be in really good condition and you can pick them up for a great price. Also, don’t be afraid to ask friends who have older children if they have any you can buy from them. Why not ask your school to arrange a Uniform Exchange. Make sure you check local charity shops and thrift stores or even car boot sales or garage sales.
Check out all savings. Once I know what I need I make sure I check online for back to school voucher codes. This takes a couple of minutes and can save so much. Also, don’t forget to check out cashback sites such as Quidco and TopCashBack that enable you to earn as you spend. These rewards range from pennies for retail items to more and really start adding up, especially if your child needs a tablet or laptop. Also check out the local pound shop for supplies too.
Buy generic and get embroidered. I have always found that it is much cheaper to buy an unbranded generic or personalised school uniform (without the school badge) and then use a local embroiderer to do it rather than buying it directly for the school, especially in primary school. However, this year the boys’ senior school had a great deal on prebadged blazers.Often you will find that a lot of the items sold by local school recommended shops are ones you can get online from Trutex.
Stamp it rather than label – Sometimes time is money and I have always found sewing in labels really time-consuming. I have never had much success with iron-on labels either, but a permanent stamp works really well for me. I just use our surname (perfect when handing it down in a family) and it really lasts, we have things that have been stamped 5 years ago and passed on that still have the name stamp in them. Get £4.99 discount when you order the School Name Labels Deluxe Bundle using the code MITMH15
Cost versus value – It’s about finding the right balance between the two. Sometimes longevity is as important as saving money – that way you’ll reduce your costs in the long run. Look at things in a cost-per-wear way. Often less expensive items might not last the whole year.
Stock up throughout the year – I often find late September and early October a brilliant time to get some bargains, especially with stationery and school stuff as they will be on sale. I get the boys’ stationery for the year and pop it in my cupboard or school drawer and they shop what I have. I get them extra gloves at the end of winter and often get their next year’s school coat in the sales. I just need to make sure that I do not forget I have them! I find that shops like TKMaxx are a fab place for buying out of season items. and I have saved searches on ebay and facebook marketplace too.
Buy in Bulk – I didn’t buy many items in bulk when the boys were in primary school, however, for seniors and college we bought pens, pencils, folders and lined paper pads that were all on their school supply list and this worked so well, as you can guarantee they run our just when the shops are shut. They are much less expensive from Amazon or other online stores. This also works really well if you group together with other parents and can share the discounts often offer when you buy more.
Sometimes it is the little things that really add up and I remember my Mum telling me to make sure that I stuck to one style and colour of socks and then with the same socks to select from, even the odd socks will eventually end up as a pair!
Both of my boys’ overheat when wearing school jumpers so for most of the primary school years they wore a zip-up fleece picked up from Sports Direct school colours with the school logo embroidered on it. It washed and dried so fast that they only needed one and it doubled up as a lightweight coat too, so a double saving.
If you have girls then Next is the place for stylish shorts and culottes which work for maximum comfort, modesty and durability. Plus they can be worn during the summer with socks and all winter with tights.
Do not discount supermarkets such as Tesco, Asda and Aldi, their uniform is brilliant and my boys have had both through the years. When you have older children check out Matalan, Primark, John Lewis and the supermarket adult section for uniforms as the adult section often has the basics cheaper than the largest children’s uniform sizes. Mini’s shirts were from Primark this year and they were 100% cotton and washed really well at half the price of the school uniform.
I advocate buying things as early as possible (Marks and Spencer offers 20% off every June/July), however, both boys underwent a growth spurt which left the clothes (and shoes) too small so I was so glad that I kept the receipts and we were able to exchange the unworn items!
I would love to know your back-to-school money-saving tips as I am always up for saving money. Please do share them in the comments.