Please note that this article is from a previous issue of the magazine – some information may have changed since the publication date. Virgin Money cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of this content.

Going back to school
Back to school already?! Are you prepared? 

Time flies! But the new school year will soon be upon us, and with it comes the expense of uniforms, shoes, supplies, gym kits and dinner money.

But don’t despair. Preparing to go back to school doesn’t have to cost the earth. Here are a few money-saving ideas to help get your family ready.

Do some stock-taking

The first step before you shell out for new gear is to double check that you really need it. While it’s nice to have new things for a new term, it may be wholly unnecessary. Check if uniforms still fit, search the house for stationery and make sure the lunch box lid still shuts properly.

As well as saving you money, taking stock of what you already have will help declutter your home. And it is kinder to the environment.

Make do and mend

While kids grow quickly, girls in particular may stop growing in their early teens, and it's worth checking if school clothes can be adjusted.

"take down a hem here and there"

If clothing is in good condition but just a tiny bit small, you may be able to let out a waistband or take down a hem here and there. If something can be mended or patched and still look new, it might be worth the investment of your time. You might even get an extra year out of it! And if white items, like polo shirts are starting to look a bit grey, try dyeing them a nice bright colour for use outside of school.

Separate your savings

The school gates beckon every September. To ensure you’re always prepared for a new year, set up a separate ‘school fund’ for school and college expenses. Perhaps give your children a penny jar so they feel included, introducing them to the idea of budgeting for essentials early. Grandparents and family members can often be induced to give up their spare change which can be counted into money bags. It's surprising how much your coppers can add up to.

"because you're recycling it's kinder to the planet""

Take the children with you when you go to deposit the money, so they can get used to banks and how they work from an early age. 

Plan what you need

Most schools will give you an equipment list ahead of time, but that might not cover everything, particularly if your child plays a musical instrument or is on a school team. This checklist created by Netmums parenting panel covers some of the extras you might need to think about.

Organise a 'back to school' swap

If you have a big family or are friends with neighbours whose kids go to the same school as yours, why not organise a “swap-shop” or get together? Everyone can bring the school items they no longer want or have outgrown, and swap them for something useful. Perhaps have a few snacks at the ready and make a day or evening of it. Anything left over could be donated to a charity shop or saved for any more kids that may come along. Again, because you’re recycling it’s kinder to the planet!

Shop around

While you might have to get some items from specific stockists emblazoned with the school logo, shop around for anything else. Most major supermarkets and department stores now have school wear ranges at reasonable prices. These are particularly good for younger children. But don’t assume the ‘back to school’ sales will offer the best prices. There can be an even greater choice online at websites such as The School Uniform Shop.

Consider second hand

Given how fast children can grow, or how the latest fashions change, it may be worth rooting around second hand shops for nearly new, or even brand new clothes, shoes and accessories. Your school website or local education authority may also have a list of second hand sales in your area.

"you may even get a discount if you haggle"

Alternatively, Patched Elephant is a free-to-join website where you can buy and sell used school uniform. It even includes sports kit and uniforms for after-school clubs like the Brownies.

Buy in bulk

Buying stationery in bulk from wholesalers means you can get everything for the whole year up front. You could club together with other parents and you may even get a discount if you haggle.

Time it right

If you buy in advance, you won’t get stung by stores that up their prices in anticipation of the school rush. Alternatively, shops may reduce their prices after the start of term to get rid of any excess stock.

Make your own

Many items, like pencil cases and lunch boxes could be made at home. If you have a Tupperware or takeaway container, or a biscuit tin in a decent state, it could make a lovely lunchbox. Your child can decorate it themselves, giving you an extra summer holiday activity to take part in together.

Links to external websites are for information only. Virgin Money receives no income from them and accepts no responsibility for the website content. The information in this article is correct as at 15 August 2012.

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