Back to school (on a budget)

How much do you spend on getting kids ready for the new school year? By the time you buy a new school uniform, winter coat, books, sports kit and stationery, what does it all add up to?

Well, according to research just published by LV=, parents will spend an average of £96 for each infant school child and £136 for each secondary school child, with many spending even bigger sums. Surprisingly, almost half expect to spend more than last year on back to school items, despite the economic squeeze. Many are trying to make savings, but it seems to be extra curricular activities that are suffering - over a quarter of those who took part in the research plan to cancel paying for some of them.

Which makes me wonder, are these parents simply failing to find all the back to school bargains that are around? Or are we a nation of shopaholics? More research published this week by uSwitch suggests that there is a chance of the latter. It claims that four million British women are in the grips of 'shopaholicism', running up an average personal shopping debt of £3,353.

It appears that female shopaholics spend over half of their total disposable income on clothes, accessories and grooming. They then take over 7 months to pay off their debts, which means they are racking up huge interest payments in the meantime.

But it's not just limited to women; over three million men have fallen victim too, with an even higher personal shopping debt of £3,425 each. While women tend to spend on high street clothes, men are developing more expensive tastes for designer clothes. They also splash out more on grooming, spending an average of £338 a year on skincare and cosmetics, whereas their female counterparts spend just £191!

Apparently, three quarters of shopaholics use a combination of credit cards, storecards, overdrafts and loans to feed their addiction and many are happy to ignore their overdraft limit to purchase a 'must have' item. Of course, we all like to treat ourselves, but the worry with this pattern of spending is that budgeting appears to have gone out the window and no lessons seem to have been learned from the recession. In fact, there are even people who are shopping more in order to cheer themselves up. Is this why some parents kit their kids out in designer school wear? To satiate their shopping habit?

This is not a good scenario and certainly not one that should be passed on to the kids. When it comes to back to school items, the key is to be as canny as possible, so here are some top tips to help make sure the cost of back to school is kept down and managed well:

Resist spending a fortune on designer uniforms when the kids are only going to ruin their clothes or grow out of them quickly. Visit the out of town stores like Tesco, Asda and Matalan, as well as high street staples like M&S and BHS to find the best deals. If you visit you can find out more about what these stores are offering, then you'll know where to head. If you're certain of sizes you can shop online, saving public transport or parking costs. Free delivery is often available and discount vouchers too. Sites like help you track down the latest discount vouchers. Work out the cost of school dinners versus a packed lunch and see if savings can be made - but not at the expense of a healthy diet, of course. Club together with as many parents as possible to share the hassle and cost of the school run. Or consider walking or cycling to school instead. Do an online search for school books to make sure you get the cheapest price. You might even find a second hand bargain on ebay. The same goes for computers and software. Before you buy new stationery, see what you actually have in the house. Chances are you could start your own stationery shop. Finally, whatever shopping you are going to do, make sure you can afford it; work out how much you will need, save in advance, set a budget and stick to it.

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