Avoiding the back-to-school shopping extravaganza

Back-to-school savings | The Kids Are All Right

By Rachel Hynes.

The “back-to-school” season is sandwiched between Christmas and Easter and is fast becoming as big a retail event and wallet drain.

This year, I have two kids doing the back-to-school shop. We are lucky enough to live very near an Officeworks. And I do mean lucky – I dash up there for last minute printing for clients, urgently needed printer ink, school supplies, birthday presents, even toilet paper! (And they keep the same hours I do: long.) So this year, I thought it would be cute if the teenager with her stationery list took the 5-year-old with her stationery list, and inducted her into the world of back-to-school shopping. Some sisterly bonding. I will be lurking in the aisles taking photos of that cuteness.

This is also the first year I’ve had two sets of uniforms to buy. And because of the age difference, there are no hand-me-downs. I remember as a kid mum always buying Clarks shoes a size too big so we’d get an extra year out of them. These days, the store assistants skilled in the dark art of kids’ shoe fitting seem to like a firm fit. I’ve felt…strongly discouraged, shall we say…when I’ve meekly suggested going up a size.

We asked our readers for tips on how to save on back-to-school costs, and these were some of their suggestions:

  • Reuse last year’s supplies that are in reasonable order
  • Check Freecycle websites for people who may have done an office clean out
  • Buy plain instead of patterned folders and let your kids decorate them themselves
  • Keep an eye out for flyers in the letterbox for the cheapest stores and deals
  • If your kids want to buy extras not on the list such as locker accessories or fancy pens, they can buy them out of their own money
  • For backpacks, check out your local goodwill store – you might find a backpack in good condition that just needs a thorough wash
  • Find out from the school when the second-hand uniform store opens – they are often open a week before school starts
  • Use the Uniform Exchange website: The Uniform Exchange – Buyers & Sellers of Used & Second Hand School Uniforms.
  • If you’re trying to save time rather than money, check out Officeworks’ service where you supply the list, they put it together and text you when it’s ready.

Parents of school children, give me your back-to-school savings tips. How do you avoid getting caught up in the madness and buying stuff you don’t need? Do you find this time of year expensive? Is it more – or less – expensive if your school sells you the stationery pack? Any tips for saving on uniforms, shoes, sports equipment, instruments…?





  1. I’m venturing out for books today… for four teens. I’m a little scared lol

    I make all the kids make lists of what they need. If I don’t think something is *needed* like they say, it doesn’t get bought. They seriously come up with some ridiculous wants some years!

    I use the school uniform shop for second hand items when I need. Shoes I try to catch the Payless sales when they are on – I have to buy a minimum of 10 pairs of shoes to start off this year! I also try to get them shoes they’ll get a little more wear out of… I always decline the shop assistant helping me, they always get it wrong. Plus I usually shoe shop without the kids… I’ve got measuring their feet down to an art and always get it right!

    I hope everyone survived the holidays okay! I am sooo keen to slow down!

    Thanks for linking up to TIK Rachel x
    Miss Cinders recently posted..Things I KnowMy Profile

    • Thanks Miss Cinders – you are very experienced at this. But… TEN PAIRS OF SHOES? Every year? I guess if you get to leave the kids at home, that’s the payoff 🙂

  2. My best tip is going to a place like DFO if your child wears runners to school or needs them for sport. Routinely I get higher end runners for around $30 which is the “expensive” pair at Kmart or Target. Little boy has been decked out in $15 authentics brand runners all last year that just don’t wear out so got a size up in prep and my daughter aced some $29 skechers.

    My other hot tip is the bonds website if you like their undies. Keep an eye out, I bought when they had a special on undies plus 30% when you buy 3 or more items and I got new stuff much cheaper than the discounts at the major retailers, shipping is free. I had tried to buy some at Target but the stuff on sale was gone bar 2 or 3 pairs in her size which was not the tried and true style she likes anyway.

    As for the stationary stuff I am more hopeless than them. Nicked into Officewokrs to buy book ends, rejected the $15 ones and found $4 ones … walked out spending $25 total anyway LOL We get books and stationary through the school booklist so it’s only the froufrou stuff that catches our eye.

    I don’t know if anyone else does it but I kind of “over prepare” for them going back to school in a mixture of feeling sorry for them, excited for them, excited and sorry for me, sad holiday time together is over and so on LOL Like, all these new undies and ace shoes will cushion the blow of no more holidays hahahahaha

    • So many great tips here Leah – THANK YOU. I am like you in Officeworks and Ikea… go in for one thing and come out with ten!

  3. Having worked as an accountant for a school I would say don’t buy your stationery from them, Big W and KMart are much cheaper.
    K always wanted new everything every year so I got into the habit of collecting all her stationery at the end of the year and then when she pulled out her stationery list for the next year, I would pull out the stationery I had been squirreling away from previous years and dish out from that. Then go shopping after that.
    Smiggles, Typo and kikki.k were off limits unless she paid for those items herself.
    Good luck ! Have the best weekend you can !

    • Great tip re school vs direct, and I like your rule around the fancy stores too! Thank you for adding some excellent advice.

  4. We’re lucky as we pay a nominal fee to the school to purchase book and stationery packs so I don’t have to worry about buying that stuff. As for uniforms, etc, Big W and Kmart had some amazing deals this time around such as $2 polo shirts (only useful if your school is fine with plain polos though). I was able to save quite a bit too buying several pairs of cheap shoes to last through the year – I have 2 school kids who seem to go through a pair of shoes each term. I’ve tried the expensive ones as well as the cheap ones and it makes no difference with my kids – so I save my money these days!
    Kirsty @ My Home Truths recently posted..Managing Back to School AnxietyMy Profile

    • Hmm, I just bought an expensive pair of shoes for the little one. I hope they last longer than a term!!! The eldest wears Doc Martens, and they are indestructible.

  5. The best tip is to leave the kids at home to avoid over buying, feeling sorry or being embarrased . Experienced mums should know what her kids NEED. Kids are the target of marketing so tagging them along is a bad idea.

  6. I’m not at this stage yet, my first is due to start kindergarten next year. But I have a feeling that like most things, I’ll be super excited about back to school prep for the first few years, and then I’ll start dreading it!
    Kelly HTandT recently posted..Feelin’ Pretty with Holly PriddisMy Profile

  7. Hi there, I agree with the ‘don’t take the kids’ idea…. I am so lucky to have lots of hand me down uniforms and books, what a relief. I’m going to sharpening lots of colour pencils and hunting out half-chewed rubbers and long-lost sharpeners this year. Glue sticks we do need, but not too much else. Hooray!!
    Seana Smith recently posted..Huskisson Carnival – Fun For Kids Every JanuaryMy Profile

    • Glue sticks are one of those items that just simply disappear in the ether. They’re off hanging out with odd socks and spare house keys.

  8. My poor kids are getting nothing new prior to school returning this year. Their uniforms still fit. Their school shoes were bought well into 2012 so they still fit (for the time being). Both their lunch boxes are in good working order. They go to Catholic school so for my year four boy the books, pencils and pens etc are supplied. For my teen she still has her pens and pencil case, calculator, folders from last year so at this point she doesn’t need anything new. So until I get a list at the end of week one for Miss 13 I don’t actually need to venture into the school supplies section.
    Aren’t I lucky!
    Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit
    Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit recently posted..Day 1209 – Australia DayMy Profile

  9. I kind of love this time of the year – that is because I LOVE buying stationery!! Yes I guess you could say I have a stationery addiction!
    This year I have gone against the school’s preferred place of buying back to school needs and went to Big W. I reckon I saved nearly $300 if not closer to $400 doing it this way!!
    With 2 kids starting new schools this year I was dreading the uniform outlay but have been so lucky to be able to pick up secondhand uniforms in excellent condition for so much cheaper!!
    Next thing I need to buy is shoes – formal and sports – that will definitely leave a hole in the bank!
    Ahh the joys of it all!!
    MultiBlogging Mum recently posted..My Miracle is 13!My Profile

    • That is a helluva lot of stationery! I’m stunned you were able to save so much money. What were the big ticket items?

      • Most expensive item was $67 – one Atlas …
        Given that I bought like 60 odd exercise books of various types, 24 display folders, umpteen pens/pencils/erasers/sharpeners, 1 sharp calculator ($25) 1 casio calculator ($18) and much much more I’m still pretty impressed.
        Mind you the atlas and another couple of books had to be bought at the school’s preferred place of purchase so they are a tad more expensive…
        I’m nearly all school booked out as all day today I have been sorting, naming, covering the books of 3 children and 1 more to go.
        MultiBlogging Mum recently posted..10 Random Things #1My Profile

  10. Oh, great, pragmatic tips! I love Officeworks. I could live there. That’s great that they can gather all your stuff for you to pick up. That’s awesome customer service!
    Grace recently posted..Is Australia racist or multi-cultural?My Profile

  11. I have no tips yet… Since this is our first year at school, but I’ll be greedily absorbing all of these ones here! I am lucky with Little A being 4 and literally a year behind. No need for second hand because it will all get two rounds!
    Kim recently posted..You know you’re tired when…My Profile

    • Yes, unless your youngest ends up the same size as your eldest, which is what seems to be happening with my two small kids. I foresee needing new things all over again.

  12. Left it to the absolute last minute to buy shoes for 14 yr old (she is now my shoe size!!!) and just as well as only found out today she starts tomorrow – thought it was Thursday! We lucked out and got the last pair in the Roc brand she likes. Had to laugh as when she tried them on it hit her that she’s back to school. One unhappy teenager.
    As for stationery her Dad took her to Officeworks for the whole lot as I get slightly/alot distracted with all the lovely stuff they have there and spend way too much. 10 yr old son found enough stationery in his desk draw to last him a lifetime, only one glue stick needed! Cheers! x
    Becci recently posted..Too busy doing nothingMy Profile

    • How lucky Becci, you can now share black, chunky, lace-up shoes with your daughter! I expect you to be wearing them next time I see you.



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