SingleMum.com.au | Updated 17 January, 2016
Back-to-school time is fast-approaching, and we're only just getting over the financial blow of Christmas - not to mention school holidays are still in full-swing! So how DO you outfit and stock up your kids for the new school year on a single parent shoe-string budget?
To get you headed in the right direction, we've put together a list of money-saving ideas and tips that might just help to ease at least some of the financial pain...
#1 Money Saving Tip - plan ahead! Put away a little bit of money each week for next year to create your own Schoolkids Bonus now that this payment is being removal by the government after 2016's two payments - read the latest including dates and amounts of the 2016 Schoolkids Bonus here
As all savvy single parents should, check out the discount department stores first. Give the newsagents and fashionable colour-code stationery stores a big miss - and whatever you do, don't take the kids with you if you can possibly avoid it. They'll almost certainly talk you into the expensive brands!
Kmart, Big W & some major supermarkets such as Coles are selling basic school supplies very cheaply right now - but that doesn't mean that they won't revert back to normal prices soon after the kids go back to school, so if you have your shopping list ready, the time to shop is now.
For some great money-saving ideas on recycling your current school-supplies read our Money-saving back-to-school tips for busy mums!
Super-Saver-Tip! - Don't check the normal stationery areas in the store where most items are still expensive. Look for seasonal display aisles (usually where the Christmas products were), aisle-ends and large feature display bins
When outfitting your child for school, probably the best place to start is your child's school - almost every public school has a uniform pool or shop where parents can buy school uniforms cheaply or second hand. Low-income families are often simply given uniforms for their children.
Cheap uniform basics such as track suits, polo shirts, school shirts, shorts, socks and even common-design school dresses are inexpensive at Aldi, Kmart, Big W, Target, Best & Less, Dimmeys & Lowes. Pay attention to your Junk Mail in the letterbox! Compare the latest back-to-school catalogues for the cheapest prices.
Super-Saver-Tip! - If one component of a uniform is too expensive - for example a blue jacket with a school shield printed on the pocket - ask the school if they will allow children to wear a plain version. If the answer is yes, you can then buy a cheaper jacket of the same colour from a discount store
If last year's shoes no longer fit (always check first - just because it's a new school year, this doesn't necessarily mean that you have to buy new shoes!), then basic school shoes start can start as cheaply as $25 a pair at Target, with reasonable-quality leather shoes from $29.99 at Aldi and Big W. Good school shoes are great, but it's the fit that is the most crucial part. Get that right, and you can decide your budget from there. Get your child's foot measured properly at a Department store such as Myer or David Jones, or a good shoe store - you don't have to buy the shoes there of course!
When deciding how much you're going to spend on school shoes, keep in mind that kids can grow out of their school shoes in less than six months. Therefore, it may be wise not to go too overboard on the price. If you do feel that you must get the best, then consider checking out your local shoe warehouse discount centre or brands seconds stores first. They may just happen to stock last year's top-brand school shoes at a considerable saving, and even your fussy teenager probably won't be able to spot the style difference!
When they do grow out of their school shoes, chances are there is still plenty of wear left for any younger children following their siblings into school... just paint on a bit of shoe-black and voila - smart, shiny shoes! The same applies for uniforms - wash and store them as useful hand-me-downs for your younger children - not the school uniform pool - at least not until your family has finished with them. It's fashionable to recycle, after all!
Public transport concessions vary from state to state - check with your school who should have all the details and forms you need to apply or make a claim - your kids may be entitled to a free ride, or you may even be entitled to petrol reimbursement at the end of the year if no public transport is available - don't miss out! Distance Education kids can often claim their trips to and from any Mini-Schools too.
Most public schools make some kind of "voluntary contribution" request, sometimes it sounds like it is compulsory when it isn't! Google your state government school policy on this - chances are, you don't have to pay a cent.
For example, from the NSW Government Schools Website...
"Both primary and secondary schools can request contributions to enhance the school's educational and sporting programs. These school contributions are voluntary and payment is a matter for decision by parents. They help provide additional educational resources for the benefit of students. Principals will ensure that no student or family suffers any discrimination or embarrassment over Voluntary School Contributions"
So in other words, if you're financially stretched already don't deprive your family of much-needed money just because you feel you're obliged to pay the Voluntary School Contributions - you're not - and only the school staff will know if you haven't.
Consider contacting a charity. Asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of - that's what charities are there for - to assist low-income families such as single parents that may well be struggling, particularly at this time of the year. Don't feel that you are alone in this situation either - there are many families - both single parent and low-income two-parent families - doing it tough right now.
The Smith Family, Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul Society and Red Cross all have current programs designed for back-to-school assistance. To find out more information, you can go to the SingleMum.com.au Charities School Support information section here.
In some states you may get a little, in others a lot - there's seemingly no rhyme or reason to Australia's State Government education allowances, but it's certainly worth checking to see what your family is entitled to. Keep in mind that some schemes, such as the Victorian Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and Northern Territory Spectacles Scheme have been removed completely, with no forseeable replacements.
For all State Government school schemes and allowances, check the SingleMum.com.au State Government School allowances page here
As already mentioned, the Federal (National) Government Schoolkids Bonus first instalment is currently being paid out to parents who are eligible for the Family Tax Benefit Part A, however this payment beyond this year was cut by the government in 2015. Don't forget to register for the SKB with Centrelink if your child has just commenced Kindy/big school (not pre-school) or high school.
For many National Government school schemes and allowances, check the SingleMum.com.au National Government School schemes page here
For more money saving ideas, take a look around the Single Mother Money Saving Tips Forum or maybe post your own savvy single parent money tips - and please do "Like" or "Share" this article if you found it to be useful!
Do you have any great back-to-school savings ideas? Comment below!