Splashing out on back-to-school basics is always costly. Pencil cases get ruined, last year’s school bag is a sorry state and uniforms suddenly look tiny — and it all mounts up.
With the cost of living spiralling, this autumn could see many of us struggling more than ever. And we’re worrying about it now. According to a recent survey from Barnados, over two thirds of primary (69%) and three-quarters of secondary school parents (75%) are worried about meeting costs this year.
“The cost of living will impact every household to an extent, as food and fuel are essential to all, and some households will already be feeling the strain,” says Kate Hardcastle, award-winning consumer expert, and about to start her 28th school term as a parent of three.
So, how can we make our money go further as we deck the kids out in their new year finery? Here are Kate's top tips.
There’s usually plenty of stock in early summer, meaning you get your pick of everything, rather than being forced to spend on whatever’s left on the shelves at the end of the holidays. Shops like M&S offer a 20% early bird school uniform discount too, which is long gone by the time most of us start shopping.
“Clothing is often treated with certain chemicals both in the dying treatment and finishing processes, to make it wrinkle-free,” Kate says. Washing before wear removes excess fibres, which can help reduce the bobbling you might start to see in the first few wears, she says.
Sounds simple — and it is! You pay a small amount more but get double (or triple) the number of items in a pack, which can be a big saving in the long run.
Lots of schools offer nearly-new items, which you can buy for much cheaper, and sites such as Vinted and eBay are also worth checking out for uniform staples. The savings will soon add up — and always say yes to any hand-me-downs from local parents.
Pretty much all uniforms can be washed at 30 degrees, helping fabrics last longer as well being kinder to the planet.
“This is controversial among friends,” says Kate, “but I have checked with experts — and it’s likely uniforms will last longer without a conditioner, particularly if they’re well-worn. The softener adds a lubricated coating that can lead to excess bobbling, which could also reduce the lifespan of garments. Avoiding the tumble dryer and excess heat helps with longevity too.”
School shoes can be expensive, but they are worn to the death, so it is worth paying more for a pair that will last longer, if you can do so.
“Consider how to maximise the wears by choosing a style that can be worn on weekends and through the holidays,” Kate suggests.
It can be difficult to get children’s feet properly measured. Clarks still offer a great service, but there are also online tools you can use, and lots of brands will let you return ill-fitting shoes free of charge, so make sure you take advantage of this. If they don’t fit well, they won’t last — and you’ll be shelling out again come the new year.
Some deals are worth snapping up. If you have more than one child, for example, you can buy two pairs of Kickers shoes and receive 20% off, or three pairs and save 25%. For young stationery lovers, Smiggle are offering bundles including a water bottle, pencil case and lunchbox, with up to 27% off.
Most parents walk in the front door and are met by a mountain of shoes, kicked off and left for us to fall over. Laces are left done up, polish rarely happens, and as for protection — it’s just not something anyone tends to do anymore. However, if you want school shoes to last longer, use spray protectors on leather varieties, fill wet shoes with crumpled paper and allow them to dry naturally (never dry them on a radiator or by the fire, as this can damage them), remove mud and grit to prevent build up and increase their lifespan, clean and polish shoes to keep the leather supple and help protect them, and encourage children to remove shoes properly, so they keep their shape and last longer.
“If you have bought quality shoes, you can expect them to last until the child outgrows them,” says Wayne Lubbock, technical development and fitting manager at Start-Rite Shoes.
To check they’re still fit for purpose, check the tread pattern on the sole for major wear, look at the upper stitching, any fastenings and the ‘padded collar’ at the back on the shoe (if it has one) — if that’s all looking OK, they should be fine for the new school year. Wayne recommends looking at the insole too, and seeing where the toe imprint is. There should be roughly 12-15mm space between the top of the toe and the edge of the insole for growing room.