Life

What price education?

The sun may be shining intermittently as the new school year approaches, but there's not much of a warm glow around parents' finances. However, do your homework and you could save money on the cost of sending your child back to school...

Sending kids back to school can be an expensive business

NOT only are we still trying to hammer out the dents in our budget made by entertaining the kids over holidays, but the cost of sending them back to school is also coming up fast.

As well as the more obvious purchases, such as school uniforms, stationary and packed lunches, there are "hidden" costs to consider too, including gifts for teachers and parking.

New research from retailer John Lewis suggests parents will spend nearly £1,000 on food and drink, around £590 on after school clubs and around £540 on transporting their offspring, every school year.

Another £120 a year goes on outfits for proms and parties, as well as £150 on gifts and donations, while sports kits and uniforms often total £290.

The first year of secondary school is the most expensive, costing parents an average of £6,800.

Johnathan Marsh, buying director at John Lewis, says: "On average, children are bought their first laptop and mobile when they're 11, which goes some way to explaining why it is the most expensive."

Meanwhile, P4 was found to be the priciest primary school year, typically setting parents back £6,400.

Interestingly, the research found boys to be more expensive than girls. The cost for parents of sending a boy to school was £5,500 a year on average, compared to £3,900 for girls.

Rob Hennessy, senior buyer small electricals at John Lewis, has tips for easing the financial strain:

:: Buy early to give you more choice and help avoid disappointment. Many parents put off buying uniforms as they fear their child's height may shoot up over the summer, but you can get advice from store staff on going up a size.

:: Check with the school before buying new technology to find out which devices are actually allowed in the classroom.

:: Get protected. It pays to be vigilant and protect technology with the most up-to-date anti-virus software.

:: Label everything to help your child keep track of their belongings and avoid having to go out and buy the same thing again. As well as sewing in name labels to clothing, bags and pencil cases, you can also get tags for electrical products.

:: Bulk buy uniform - it could save you money on the initial purchase, and means you'll use the washing machine less often.

:: Pay online. Many schools provide a service that allows parents to pay for their child's school excursions, visits and school meals online, via new payment systems. No more sending the kids to school with cash in hand...

PANEL

:: PICK THE BEST STUDENT ACCOUNT FOR YOUR TEENAGER

Picking a suitable student current account can get teenagers' first experiences of financial independence off to a good start, but what should you watch out for?

Rachel Springall, finance expert at Moneyfacts.co.uk, says: "A sizeable overdraft facility will be a top priority for many. However, while this is a handy cash injection, using it to its fullest will always be an easy temptation.

"There is a danger of racking up a significant overdraft and being unprepared when the time comes to pay it back, which is why students should do everything in their power to use it sparingly and do their best to earn additional income to reduce what they owe.

"These accounts are well-renowned for their enticing incentives, such as shopping discount cards, railcards or coach cards that save money on journeys.

"While these can prove useful to those who would frequently utilise the benefits, choosing an account based solely on the incentive can mean being stuck with a less attractive overdraft in the process."

It's also worth keeping in mind that getting a sizeable interest-free overdraft facility is never a guarantee, and as with any bank account, customers will be credit scored.

Springall adds: "Bank branches on campus may sway students to pick them for their day-to-day banking needs out of convenience, but the digital age means it's so easy to manage finances on the go, that a nearby bank branch shouldn't be the final deciding factor."

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