back to school

Savvy Mums guide – starting school in September, budgeting for schools back-to-school

Why you need to plan in advance?

So it’s time for your bundle of joy to start school. Where did the time go you say while feeling like your right arm is being ripped from your shoulder!

There are a lot of things to think about, not just the uniform. If you are a parent whose child has been accepted into their chosen primary school, then by now you have been told what you need to buy.

There is a myriad of things that you child will need for school, plus everything that comes along after they start. It’s worth putting aside some money now to pay for what you need to get in advance and then maybe setting up a ‘school account’ which you can put a small amount of money into each month to pay for the incidentals.

How to budget for school

There are two types of schools and you will need to budget very differently for each.

Private schools

Costs can be daunting, but if you are realistic about your finances and you plan well in advance then you have a better chance of giving your child the education you believe they deserve. School fees have been on the rise for the past few years, so it is harder to get your child through private education that ever.

In order to help you work out your budget for this, here is a quick checklist of things to think about:-

  • Work out the total cost of your child’s education. You can do this by asking the school for a copy of the average fees for the past five years
  • Try to work out what you will be spending on the essentials and extras, such as uniform, bags and day trips.
  • Do your monthly budget. You can use our free budget planner to help you with this, so that you know your income and outgoings. Our free budget planner is available to download here:
  • This will help you see just where your money goes and what areas you need to work on.
  • Take the school fees from your income and then you can realistically see what the remainder is. Is this enough to live on?
  • Have a look at scholarships or bursaries and see if you qualify. Look also at investment funds for a long term solution or a savings plan to help you out as you go along. 

The Daily Mail produced an article about Private education. Some of their statistics are concerning for parents. According to the Independent Schools Council parents hoping to send their child to a private school will mean shelling out, on average, £3,655 a term whilst fees including student boarding are usually around £8,384.

They go on to say that the cost of a smaller private school can be large for most families, but a lot of parents feel forced to choose private education because there are no good state schools in their area.

The main piece of advice the Daily Mail gives for parents with the heart set on a school, or suffering financial difficulties is to talk to the school. Your discussion will be confidential and they will not worry about you asking for help as they would rather have your child at the school than lose them to state education, after all they have to rely on your money to stay open.

Another option is to move house to an area where there are good state schools, but this can take planning and time. Also, don’t forget grandparents, as they will only be too happy to help their grandchildren and even if they don’t have a lot of cash, there are options they can investigate such as using Inheritance Tax Savings.

State schools

You don’t need to pay for these – hurrah! However, there is a strict application system that you do need to be aware of as you need to apply on time otherwise your child will not get into the school that you would ideally like them to go to. Your local council normally has the application form online and will show the deadlines.

Just as with private schools, you are welcome to walk into state primary schools and ask to be shown around and talk to the Head to get an impression of the school beforehand. Some schools have open days for just that purpose, so it’s worth checking out the council website and the local papers as they may advertise this there.

Once your child has been accepted into a school, they normally have some sessions in the summer term where the school will invite the children in to meet their teacher and see their classroom while the parents get to meet the Head and find out how their system works and what they need to buy to help their child be ready for their new school.

This will give you the summer holidays to buy everything that your child will need, so plan your time and budget accordingly. For the simple fact, if you don’t, you may find yourself out of pocket throughout the summer holidays.

What you need to think about

There is a long list of items to buy in advance to get your child ready for school, uniform, shoes, gym clothes, swimming costume, towel, swim hat and goggles, book bag, lunch bag if they are having packed lunch, a backpack for the occasional outing or swimming, PE bag, water bottle, winter coat, waterproof, hat, scarf and gloves! Be prepared for lost items, so if you can buy multiple pairs of gloves, do it! Also, remember everything needs to be labelled, so factor in the cost of labels or a Sharpie!

Once they start there are a whole host of things that you will need to pay for as well, such as day trips, swimming, after school clubs (not all are paid), school lunches, tag days, discos and other PTA organised events. Bear in mind that anything the PTA does, goes straight back into the school, so it’s a very worthwhile cause to donate to.

One way of helping is to ask Grandparents if they wouldn’t mind sharing the cost of the uniform for the first year. Most are happy to do this and it takes some of the burden away.

When to buy

Once you know what uniform you need, shop around to find the best deals. To be honest the supermarkets are sometimes the best value for money. You can get a couple of the school branded cardigans / jumpers from the school, but I wouldn’t get too many to start with as you may find that once you start you find the PTA sell second hand ones.

If you have girls, the summer dresses are fantastic. Less clothing to sort out, less washing and surprisingly some of the cheaper supermarket ones hardly need ironing if you hang them up straight out of the wash. They can wear them for the first term up to October half term while the weather is warm and you tend to find that they will still fit into them when you get to spring term, right through to the summer.

Top ten tips!

  1. Some schools don’t factor in a shirt and tie until year three, so I would recommend simple polo shirts for both boys and girls as they are cheaper, easier to wash and iron and more comfortable for little ones.
  2. For girls, I would recommend pinafores over skirts as they keep the polo shirts cleaner and it’s easier for them to hike them up when they need the toilet (my daughter’s recommendation!)
  3. If you have the choice of sock colour, go for the darker ones as they don’t show the dirt as easily.
  4. If you are asked to buy swim caps, get them from school, they are much cheaper and you know that they will be accepted by the school they take them swimming to.
  5. If your child is taking a packed lunch, get the lunchbags that have the integral bottle holder, it’s so much easier for them to carry and it keeps the bottle upright and keeps the food from getting wet as all those bottles leak even the ones that say they don’t.
  6. Get enough shirts and socks to cover you for the week, you don’t want to be washing every day!
  7. Get more than one school cardigan / jumper / tie. They WILL leave them at school, lose them or cover them in paint, so you need to make sure you are covered for at least a day to find it or wash it.
  8.  Buy a washable winter coat. Kids manage to get them filthy at playtime and even during the school run!
  9. Buy cheap hat/scarf/gloves as they do lose them. It’s worth getting several pairs of gloves, as they will come home with only one! Do write their names on them as they do make it to lost property!
  10. Do label EVERYTHING as you will be amazed at what will go missing or get swopped when they are little. My daughter’s friend came home with one of her own shoes and a friend’s shoe on – and she didn’t even notice the size difference!

Lastly, don’t panic, there will be other parents who will have not managed to get everything beforehand. The little ones won’t notice to start with and possibly for the first week or so they will only be doing half day, so you will be able to catch up in the first week. Good luck!

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