Back-to-school costs can really put a strain on household finances, especially if you have more than one child to buy for. With the cost of living hitting harder, many of us are likely to feel those expenses more keenly now than ever.

School supplies aren’t cheap. Hats, uniforms, textbooks, stationery, lunch boxes, water bottles, and school bags, not to mention computers, can really add up. For many families, January can be one of the most expensive months of the year.

How to save on school supplies

To minimise the stress and strain, we have put together our top 10 tips for ways to save big on all sorts of back-to-school supplies.

1. Shop at home first

Money-saving back-to-school purchases begin with shopping in your own home. In no way are you being a bad parent or caregiver by saving money and using what you already have. At Hippo Cash, we reckon you’d be providing the best example of good parenting.

You probably already have a load of school supplies sitting around. So, before you hit the shops, rummage through your child’s school bag and room, your home office, and those random storage bins and you may well find stacks of pens, paper, and other items that are on your child’s ‘must-have’ list.

It can be tempting to just grab an off-the-shelf stationery pack or buy the list of stuff from the school, but it pays to be smart about new purchases. Does your child actually need another pair of scissors, glue stick or rubber? They may have leftovers from last year already. Got more than one child? Think about what can be passed down as the need for certain stationery items changes as your child does.

Get your hands on a stationery list and before you go shopping, go around the house and cross off anything you already have. If your household is like most New Zealand homes, there will be half-used or barely used exercise books at the end of every year. So, pull out the few used pages and call it a new book and reuse it for the new school year.

Reusing stuff will not only save you tons of money, it’s also good for the environment.

2. Swap before you shop

Uniforms are expensive, especially as children grow. The average uniform in NZ costs around $600.00 and a school uniform can be outgrown really quickly. If you know people whose kids have finished school, or you have friends, family and neighbours who have different-aged children at the same school, why not check in with them to see if there are uniform pieces you can swap?

You could even go a step further and start a swap within your friends’ group, maybe on Facebook. You’d be surprised at the amount of sports gear, musical instruments and uniforms that sit in peoples’ homes that they haven’t got around to doing anything about.

3. Buy second-hand

There is absolutely nothing wrong with second-hand. From backpacks to uniforms, shoes and technology, you’re sure to uncover a variety of preloved treasures at bargain prices in garage sales, op shops, online and at school shops.

For some kids, there can be a stigma around second-hand school supplies, and they demand new-new-new, but push back. Just because something has been used does not mean it decreases in value. Second-hand shops are usually filled with pens, pencils, books, colouring supplies and folders. Often unique and very cool stationery items can be found there.

Many uniform shops have second-hand options. Many schools have second-hand uniforms for sale.

Join your school’s Facebook group – people often give away or sell uniforms their kids have grown out of. Local Pay It Forward Facebook groups also have school gear with plenty of wear left in them available. You can then return the favour when your child grows out of them and pass them on to others. You can also buy uniforms and supplies on online marketplaces such as Trade me and Facebook Marketplace. You’ll be saving money while putting money into another family’s pocket for their school expenses. Why not sell any unwanted items on these platforms while you’re there to raise money for new school supplies?

4. Buy refurbished gear

To keep technology expenses down, shop for refurbished computers, laptops, and tablets. Local computer repair shops and big names like Apple and Dell will sell these with warranties and guarantees, which can make life easier.

5. Shop online

You’ll avoid the craziness of the shops, and you’ll eliminate the extras or the upgrades to those nicer stationery items that can get thrown in if shopping with your kids. To get the best deals it pays to spend some time checking which stores have the best prices. Use price comparison websites and apps to help you find the lowest prices. Remember to also check for any online coupons or promo codes.

If feasible, use the click-and-collect option to save on delivery costs and pick stuff up while you’re out and about.

6. Wait for the sales

Normally, the big retailers have big back-to-school sales every year. Stationery in particular is often significantly discounted. If possible, wait until school starts for some other items and then hit the clearance sections for bargains.

7. Spread purchases out throughout the year

The week before school starts isn’t usually the best time to get a laptop. You’ll often find better deals on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or Boxing Day. If you can, it’s worth holding off on big-ticket tech items so you can shop during the sales.

8. Name everything

One of the best ways to save money on both stationery and uniforms is to name them. Lost items are much more likely to be returned if they’re named, which equals less money spent on replacing them. That includes hats, clothing, lunchboxes and drink bottles. You could even name pens by writing the child’s name on a small piece of paper and sticking it on with sellotape.

9. Make a budget

You’ve seen the enormous list of everything you need to get the kids back to school, so take some time to work out how much you have to spend. It is also a very good idea to then break that down

into categories, so you don’t overspend in some areas and end up going shoer in others. Then stick to your budget.

10. Back-to-school education time

Why not use this back-to-school supply shopping time as a teaching experience? The young folk could help you make a budget and work out how much their school supplies cost and how to pay for them. They can then help you find the bargains that will fit the financial plan.

It’s an opportunity for them to appreciate the cost of things and the value of money.

You could even go as far as setting up a separate bank account for each child’s school supplies. Getting them involved in spending ‘their money’ may mean less negotiation and demands for the fancier items when they realise there is a limit on funds. If they did want to add something extra to the list, you could get them to do jobs around the house.

Preparing during the year

Preparing for the new school year can be hard. For many families finding those lump sums for the back-to-school supplies when January rolls around can be extremely stressful. The key to reducing some of that stress is having good financial behaviours throughout the year. That means sticking to a budget and having savings plans in place, so you’re prepared.

If you’re having a hard time financially, there are a number of services in New Zealand that provide free financial help, such as budgeting and debt consolidation. If you need advice and support, you could start by contacting MoneyTalks, a free financial helpline run by trained financial mentors.