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Going back to school can be an expensive business. New uniform, new sports kit, new shoes, new stationary, the list goes on and on. Whilst new may be an option for some, the worry of providing for children to return to school in September can be a challenge which causes some families as much concern as putting food on the table. A department of education study in 2015 found that that one in five families and carers suffer hardship as a result purchasing their child’s school uniform.

A recent Govt report published in May of this year stated that no uniform should be so expensive, to prevent a family applying for their child to attend their preferred school and as a result legislation has been brought in to this effect.

Even with this provision, The Children’s Society when they surveyed 1,000 parents in the UK and found that they were spending on average £337 on School Uniform for each secondary school pupil and £315 for each Primary School child.  

The first thing to understand is, the only thing that needs to be new is the new school year. Everything else can be found from an alternative source. Let’s explore how you can return your children to school in a thrifty fashion taking full advantage of everything that’s available. 

Uniforms and Sports Kit

Most schools now allow for many uniform items to be purchased from discount stores and supermarkets at much cheaper prices than if you buy direct from the school. Trousers, shirts, skirts and blouses are available in all sizes and colours which meet school rules. 

Certain items such as blazers and sports kits with specific logos may need to be sourced direct from the school, but before buying new, ask about second hand uniforms. 

Some schools have specific used items available for sale which are much cheaper than new. Also don’t be afraid to buy a couple of sizes up. Your children will grow whilst attending school and bigger sizes will shrink accordingly to match their size in no time!

If the school doesn’t have a second-hand shop, look on resale sites such as eBay or your local Facebook marketplace. You can place a message asking has anyone got specific items of uniform available. By doing this you might even be able to get some items for free!

If you are struggling to meet the cost of providing the uniform, some councils do offer support. This isn’t available everywhere but you can check what’s available in your area here.

Once you have gathered all the Clothing together, make sure you label each item clearly with your Child’s name.  Lost property boxes in every school are full of items which no one has claimed because they have no name in them. If you’ve clearly labelled the uniform (right down to individual socks) the chances of getting a lost item back increases immensely.


Your child will be wearing their school shoes for around 35 hours a week. This means in terms of “price per use” school shoes are probably the best value shoes you will buy your child during the year. 

The price of shoes doesn’t always offer the guarantee of its value. Cheap shoes aren’t necessarily going to be bad fit and expensive shoes will not always be the best fit. What’s important is for your child to try their shoes on.  

It’s best to shop for shoes no sooner than three weeks before they return back to school in September. This way your child is unlikely to grow out of the pair of shoes you’re saving for their first day back. If you can, only shop when your child is in the mood to do so. This way you will give yourself the best chance of selecting the right shoes for your child.


Before you dash out to buy new pens, rulers, and protractors. Have a look at what you already have. 

Chances are when it comes to stationary, you’ve gathered all sorts of items over the years which collectively will make up everything that your children need for the new term. 

If you do need to buy new, buying personalised stationary items which clearly show your child’s name means they are more likely to have all their items in their possession come the end of the Autumn term. This means you won’t need to buy replacements come Christmas. If you only have one stationary item that has your child’s name on it, make it the Pencil Case. 

Just like the labels on the uniform, items which are seemingly discarded, will find their way back to your child if it has their name on it! 

Getting to and from School

If you’re within close proximity to the school, the cheapest form of transport is to walk, cycle, or scoot. It also keeps you active. Many people now operate a walking bus for both company and safety on the way to and from school.

If you live further away, 2 miles if your child is under 8 or 3 miles if aged 8 or over, you will be entitled to free school transport provided by your local council.

If you do need to use a car to transport your children to or from school, it’s best to arrange a car share with friends and neighbours to at least half the cost of travel. This will also encourage your children to be on time in a morning!

Free School Meals

The rules for whether you’re eligible for free school meals varies depending on where you live. If you think you’re eligible or just want to find out if you can apply, you can do so using this link.

Packed Lunches

An alternative to paying for school meals is to create some healthy packed lunches. There are loads of ideas online for creating varied and tasty meals which include a child’s five a day.

Discuss with your children what they want to eat for lunch and try them out at home first to ensure the lunches will hit the spot and your money and effort to prepare them every day is not wasted. 

Child Care Costs

Whether you have toddlers, primary school or senior school aged children, depending on your circumstances, you could be entitled to child care support costs. 

The rules vary whether you live in England Wales Scotland or NI, but all three and four-year-olds in the UK are entitled to some free early education or childcare. 

You can use these free hours at registered childcare providers such as:

  • Nurseries and nursery classes
  • Playgroups and pre-schools
  • Registered childminders
  • Sure Start Children’s Centres
  • Holiday schemes, breakfast and after school clubs.

Additional child care support is also available for older children.

There are two avenues open to eligible If you’re not presently claiming support for child care costs, there are two avenues open to eligible applicants.   

  • The Childcare element of Universal Credit
  • Tax Free Childcare.

If you already have a valid Child care claim in place using one of these two schemes…

  • Childcare element of Working Tax Credit
  • Childcare vouchers/Employer provided childcare

… it’s wise to check that you’d be better off before deciding to transfer your claim to one of the newer schemes.

Getting your children kitted out for going back to school can be expensive, particularly if you have a few children, but we hope this article shows that there are alternatives to buying everything new.