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A tough start to school for many this year

After the Christmas and New Year break, the start of the school year can be a financially stressful time. Meeting back-to-school costs is tough as it is, let alone the inflated costs due to the impacts of Covid.

According to KidsCan CEO and founder Julie Chapman, "the impact of Omicron means for many students this will be the toughest start to the year yet". With staff in nearly 200 schools and early childhood centres supported by the charity sharing stories of the choices, some families are forced to make at the start of the school year.

Not only are there financial stresses impacting families’ mental health, but there is now the need for children to wear masks during class and juggle self-isolation.

We’ve put together five ways to keep back-to-school costs low and on track.

1. Set a limit

Preparing for the new school year is a great time to get the kids involved in making a budget and working out how much these items cost and how much is needed to pay for them.

Estimate any extra costs that might come up during the year. These might include excursions, camps, sporting or music events and lessons, and project supplies.

2. Compare your stationery options

When the kids come home from school with their stationery list, it can be a bit daunting looking at the long list of items needed for the year. First, take a look through the list and check whether you have any of the items at home laying about. Finding a few empty exercise books and pens can help cut your expenses.

Wait for the stationery sales that come every year. Keep an eye out and check whether your child’s school has discount arrangements with certain stores.

Shop online by using the lists supplied by the schools. This will eliminate the extras that can get thrown in or the upgrades to those nicer pencils and pens that add up if shopping in person with your child/ren.

Compare prices from different retailers. Places include Warehouse Stationery, Paper Plus, The Warehouse, Typo, Whitcoulls and OfficeMax.

3. Look at payment options

Traditionally, the most costly back-to-school items were uniforms - ranging from $250-$1000 and upwards. Now, we have technology needs racking up the biggest costs. Buying a new laptop is expensive. Luckily in New Zealand, we have some safe payment options.

Good Shepherd NZ: Good Loans - no and low-interest loans designed to help New Zealanders with limited incomes purchase essential household goods and services.

Payment plans - check with the school whether they offer payment plans for large ticket items and/or upcoming expenses like school trips

Buy now pay later (BNPL) schemes - this option is to be used with care and caution. If used correctly, BNPL can help spread out payments rather than one lump sum payment. Remember, this does affect your future cash flow, so budget ahead of time to meet all payments on time and ensure no late fees!

And, if you qualify, check Work and Income’s assistance payment or an advance benefit payment to help cover the cost of uniforms and stationery.

4. Go second-hand

Most school uniform shops sell second-hand items at reduced prices. Look at online marketplaces (e.g. Facebook, TradeMe) to buy books, technology and stationery second-hand.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask other parents whether they had any old or spare supplies. Parents with older children can be super helpful as they have items their children no longer need/use and looking to offload to those who can benefit from them.

5. Name everything

Putting your child’s name on all their items means they’re more likely to be returned, meaning fewer costs having to replace them.

Write your child’s name on clothing items, books, stationery, hats, lunch boxes, drink bottles - everything!

Although it may feel near impossible to plan ahead during covid times, there are still ways to be prepared and in control.

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