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How to Afford School Expenses

How to Afford School Expenses

Tips to Save Money with ALL your School Expenses from Fees to Devices

Are you struggling to afford all the school expenses related to your kids going back to school?

Education expenses have skyrocketed in recent years with electronics such as iPads becoming essential to your child’s education. Add to that what we have had to do and programs we needed to homeschool with all the issues around the world recently.

When you add up school fees, uniforms, book packs, school shoes, school bags, labels, lunch boxes, electronics, school excursions, school camps, fundraisers and all the other extra’s it costs thousands each year.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links to products and services I use.

How can you do it Cheaper and Make Enough Money to Afford School?

I’m going to break down each area of school expenses here, offer my tips plus some money-making tips, too. I do mention specific brands here that I use because they have proven to be quality items.

My kids are 14 (year 9), 12 (year 8), I have a 7 year old stepdaughter I help with who lives in the Solomon Islands, a 1 year old and am pregnant, due in February 2022. I also have 8 siblings, so learnt from my parents. a lot about making things frugal and affordable.

School Fees

School fees are set by the school. Some schools allow payment plans, others only have a voluntary contribution. Overall, school fees are an unavoidable cost you can’t reduce. Discuss your position with the school to see if they have any options for you.

Check if they reduce fees for more than 1 child at the school or if you pay by a certain time. This can save as much as 20% from what I have seen.

Start saving this year for fees next year, even if it is only something like saving every $5 note you get. Every bit helps. Use a separate bank so you don’t see it if you need to.

Voluntary Contributions

Technically, they are voluntary, not compulsory, however, every parent I have spoken to says the school will hound you until you pay it if you don’t pay it.

These contributions are used to improve the school, pay for extra programs and I think they contribute greatly to the school and by default the education of your child. If you can afford to pay it, it’s nice to do so.

Book Packs

Each year schools send out a book pack list where you can purchase the whole pack through them or purchase the required items elsewhere. Before heading out and buying everything on the list, go through the items that came home last year and use whatever you can.

Most years my kids have quite a few resources leftover such as books, textas, pencils etc.

Plus items like a pencil case, pencil sharpener, ruler and so on can be used again the following year. Not only will it save you money buying only what you need, but it also reduces waste and is environmentally friendly.

Once you work out what you need to buy, print the list and take it to places like Officeworks who will price match and even beat other prices, or Kmart.

Shop around, compare prices online and make sure you are getting the best deal for everything you need to buy.


Textbooks can be expensive and you don’t know until the end of the year which ones were actually used and needed. You can buy second-hand ones or trade them on school notice boards.

Make sure you only go one year back because too much older and your child might have issues with it matching the curriculum now. Once you’ve finished with your textbooks sell them.


Where possible buy second hand or generic uniforms. For example, my kids school dresses in primary school was the generic one sold at Target and Kmart. It was cheaper there than it is in the school uniform shop, despite being exactly the same dress.

If you are able to do similar or your school is mainly colour coded, buy the items at Target, Kmart, Lowes, Big W or similar and buy the next size up too. I found that halfway through the year my kids had ruined a few or outgrown them and it was next to impossible to find cheap ones.

If your school has a second-hand uniform stall that can be super cheap. If not, see if you can start one. Also, check your local second-hand stores as most have a uniform section.

That said, growing up, we were made to wear generic when it wasn’t the official school dress and I hated it. I desperately wanted a jumper with the logo and the proper school dress. I realise it isn’t always affordable, but if it is, I have found bullying and other issues tend to be lower when the kids fit in.

If it’s difficult getting the uniforms, choose to buy two, that way one can be getting washed while the other is drying and if one gets damaged you have time to fix it if possible.

At our high school, they have a different uniform for different years which is really frustrating. We got most of the year 7 and 8 uniforms on Facebook Marketplace. If your school is similar, you might just have to budget for the exact uniform at the uniform shop.

Lastly, if it is completely out of your reach, chat to the school and see if there are any options, payment plans or layby so your child can have a uniform. I know delaying the payments doesn’t make the cost go away, it gives you time to work it out or come up with the money. Some schools also allow the unclaimed lost property to go to families in need, so it pays to ask.

School Shoes

Supportive shoes that fit your child’s foot is important. My preference is to have my children fitted properly, but I know not everyone can afford it. I like to do it because long term the effects of shoes that are not supportive can mean bad backs, growth issues and other problems I would like to avoid.

Also, the sneakers I paid $100+ each for typically last the whole year, compared to cheap shoes barely lasting a term.

If you cannot afford to get your kids fitted or don’t feel the need to, Target has often come out on top for the best quality school shoes.

If your kids are allowed to wear sneakers, Kmart, Big W and Target all have affordable shoes. My kids do a lot of sports so I prefer to get the best quality shoes I can for them.

School Bags

Kathmandu backpacks on sale are the best value for money. They often have 30% to 40% off sales and their backpacks last years. My kids used their backpacks like soccer balls half the time in Primary School. Kathmandu can handle this, whereas the $20 backpack I got my daughter one year from Big W, that she wanted, fell apart before the end of the first term.

My sister put me onto Kathmandu and swears by them. My travel bag is Kathmandu and it takes a beating.

The price of Kathmandu backpacks on sale are the same as ones from Target, Big W and Kmart anyway, so it is worth it getting them when you can.

Now they are in high school in Noosa, they want their bags from a surf shop. 1 of the bags fared well, the other bag broke quicker than you’d want for a $70 bag.

Always check stitching on the backpack you buy, the zipper, seams and pockets to make sure it will stand up to being used every day. I strongly believe in getting the best quality you can afford and expensive does not always equate to quality.

Another option is second hand. I bought a Nike bag when I was in year 10 (the year 2000) for $6 at Vinnies. When I divorced in 2013, he kept it and it was still going strong! New isn’t always better.


Prior to 2016, I had used either cheap lunch boxes or Tupperware ones. The Tupperware ones were replaced a few times under the warranty then I got sick of it. The cheap ones got easily lost and always broke. In 2015 I was given some Smash Enterprises lunch boxes and bags (Nude Food Movers).

They lasted a couple of years until we started travelling full time in 2019. You can usually get them on sale at the supermarket. In my experience, they’ve been the best.

We had lunch boxes, lunch bags, some smaller containers, and yoghurt containers. We use them for school, weekend outings, when we travel and for picnics as well.

Now, my kids use a cooler bag and mainly take fresh produce so only occasionally take containers anyway.

Electrconics – iPads, Laptops, Phones etc.

Kids require devices for school now, it is unavoidable. Our primary school required iPads, high school requires specific laptops with certain capabilities so over $1,000 per device.

Since kids are being taught by apps, learning coding, podcasting and social media, it’s my opinion that these devices are essential for your children and schooling. Expensive, but essential.

To Reduce Costs

Ask the school exactly which devices are needed, why it is needed, what the children will be doing on it and if there are any payment plans or discounts with specific retailers. For example, our primary school stipulated iPads because they anticipated it would last until my kids left school (they lasted 5 years).

Plus its compatibility with programming and curriculum. They also had a collaboration with JB HiFi where we got a discount so the iPad plus a case were less than the cost of an iPad anywhere else.

Shop around, compare prices and make sure whichever device you purchase, you are getting the best rate on it.

Look for cashback sites that let you know if there are cashback options available for what you want to purchase. You can sign up then install the extension in your browser so you can check it all online and claim right away.

Opt for second hand or refurbished. If you decide to buy off gumtree, eBay or similar sites, or if you choose to buy from a reseller, make sure they are reputable, check everything thoroughly, buy in person, pay by PayPal for some protection and never do a bank transfer. Know what you are buying, the value and be cautious.

Protect whatever you buy. Get screen protectors, cases and anything else you need to protect it plus add the electronics to your home and contents insurance policy. Many policies have the option for certain items to be insured outside the home.

Excursions, Camps and Fundraisers

All of these are optional, but highly advisable. They contribute to their education, overall schooling experience, and friendships.

Start putting aside money now, even $5 per week so you aren’t trying to come up with $200 or more when a camp crops up.

If you don’t have the money, ask about payment plans or look at ways you can make some extra money such as 10 ways to make $1,000 in a month or 22 ways to make money in 2022.

Lastly, kids don’t have to do or participate in everything. I have avoided fundraisers at times because they didn’t suit our family (such as hot cross bun drives when we are celiac). Do what works for your family.

How do you find the money you need for schooling?

I covered how to save money, but what if you simply cannot cut back any further? You need to find ways to make money. Try any of these options:

43 ways for single mums to make money
The best Australian online survey sites (you can make over $1,000 with this)
Rent a room on Airbnb

Work out how much you need to make to cover educational expenses for your children then look at how you can make that happen. Set up a separate account and put all the money in there for their education.

What tips would you add? 

Also, check out the real cost of raising kids and how to reduce it for more tips.

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