Lifestyle: Do your financial homework before buying school supplies

A school boy in uniform holding a graph illustrating the cost of sending a child back to school. PA Photo/Thinkstock
A school boy in uniform holding a graph illustrating the cost of sending a child back to school. PA Photo/Thinkstock
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Vicky Shaw reports on the latest money news and offers advice and predictions for savers and spenders

Just when you’ve finished paying for all the children’s summer holiday trips and treats comes a new financial headache - the cost of sending them back to school.

At a time when we’re all still feeling the pinch of high inflation, a new report from John Lewis has found that the cost of today’s school uniform, school bag and its contents have doubled in real terms since the 1980s. The study into the most popular items that children carry around said that parents will be looking at forking out the grand sum of £550.80 to send their child back to school. This includes around £100 on a school uniform, £7.60 on lunch, drinks and snacks, £19.70 on a new school bag and £46.10 on text books and stationery.

The big increase comes from the fact that the days when a calculator and a shatter-proof ruler were the snazziest pieces of kit for a schoolbag are long gone.

Almost half (45%) of children were found to take a smartphone with them to school, and over one third (35%) said they carried headphones. The 2013 school bag results show that almost one fifth (18%) of secondary school age children are taking an MP3 player with them to school, one in 20 (5%) are opting for a tablet or laptop and one in 50 (2%) are carrying an eReader.

One glimmer of hope for hard-pressed parents is that the real costs of good old-fashioned staples like lunchboxes and uniforms, were found to have edged down in recent decades.

So how can you get the best value when sending your child back to school?

Paying online for school trips and meals might be something to consider. Many schools now allow parents to pay in this way, meaning parents no longer have to send their children to school with cash in hand.

Some parents put off shopping for a school uniform until the last minute to avoid the problem of summer holiday growth spurts, but buying early will give you more time to shop around for the best deal - and you can always take the advice from a store’s schoolwear department on going up a size.

Deborah Heston, deals expert at consumer help website, says that while many stores are battling it out to offer cheap school uniforms, parents should look beyond just the price tag and consider how long they need the clothes to last for.

She says: “If you want to hand down uniforms to younger children then consider investing in items you know will last longer, that may cost a little bit more, but have a better cost per wear.

“If your children are the type to rip clothes or get them mucky beyond repair, then buy cheaper and replace as you go throughout the year.”

Name-labels will help ensure the new clothing you’ve bought does not go astray on the bus or playing field, leaving you shelling out for replacements.

As more youngsters are carrying high-tech goods around with them, you might also want to think about buying some tags which can be used on gadgets. Also check that your insurance policy covers potential damage or the loss of these items while they are at school.

Before investing in an expensive gadget, it is also important to double-check with the school what their policy about such devices - some schools operate a no-mobile policy in the classroom.

Children often crave the latest technology craze or gadget, but it is important to work out which item will be the most useful as a study aid and which is better suited to leisure time use at home.

How can you... make your money go further if you’re heading to university?

This is traditionally the time of year when providers ramp up competition on their student accounts, but Sylvia Waycot, editor of financial information website Moneyfacts, says this pre-term time is lacking some of the “razzmatazz” seen in previous years, where providers offered freebie incentives to students.

“In many ways it’s a good thing that the incentives on student accounts are not that imaginative as it means students can focus on the real qualities of an account and better match the features that will suit their spending habits best,” she says.

The main priority for students should always be to avoid charges on borrowing.

“Not all accounts offer interest-free overdrafts,” she adds. “But of those that do, some are as high as £3,000 over the term of the course. Others offer up to £2,000 with some graduating up to this level each year.

“Understanding how you spend your money will help you decide which type of overdraft facility will work best for you and if that account comes with a £12 saving incentive, all the better.”

Jenny Keefe from MoneySavingExpert says that setting out a budget with all your outgoings is also a good idea.

“If you cut your bills by haggling down your mobile contract and switching energy provider, you should even be able to get through student life without living off baked beans.

“It’s also worth looking for easy ways to top-up income. We’ve seen people make decent money by doing online surveys, becoming a mystery shopper or selling old mobiles and books - which easily fits around studies.”

Financial dictionary: payday loan

You may already have a very good idea what a payday loan is, but the Competition Commission, which is carrying out an investigation into the sector, has recently given a clear definition for its terms of reference.

It says that despite their name, payday loans are not necessarily linked to when the borrower will next get their wages.

The Commission considers payday loans to be non-mortgage loans “which are generally taken out for less than 12 months, and where the amount borrowed is usually less than £1,000.”