School supplies need not break the bank

Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency(ANA)

I was still recovering from my Christmas indigestion when the first “back to school” ad popped up on my social media feed.

New Years is not a money spinner so marketers start thinking about “back to school” before the old year is even dead, but they’re not the only ones. Many parents start thinking about stationery and uniforms before the end of the last school term, and here’s why:

  • Stationery prices inflate at the beginning of the school year; and
  • Hidden Christmas costs often start eating into the school budget.

Clever buyers have chunks of the stationery lists sorted by the time the “back to school” ads start popping up but if you’re not one of them, or completely new to this, worry not, here are some tips to stretch your school supplies budget.

Shoppers peruse stationery at a shop in Mitchell’s Plain.Photographer Ayanda Ndamane /African News Agency(ANA)

Buy bulk:

Join together with other parents or relatives for a stationery stokvel, buy bulk and split the stock.

Buy through the school:

This applies for both uniforms and stationery. Some schools strike deals with stationers or uniform manufacturers and sell from the bursar’s office at a dramatically lower price.

Good quality second-hand uniforms can be purchased through school bursar’s offices.

Some schools also have second-hand uniform sales from stock donated by pupils who have left. This has the double bonus of benefiting both you and the school who would then reinvest that money into the upkeep of the school, which benefits your child in the long run too.


Growing up my mom did everything on lay-by. Nowadays, it is the less popular option for reasons that I cannot fathom. Shops don’t charge interest on lay-bys so it is a better option than credit.

Buy good quality:

This is a bit of a backwards tip but it makes sense only once you implement it.

Most people are tempted to buy the cheapest option when it comes to a product but this is not always value for money. The cheaper product is sometimes the inferior product, which means you’ll be replacing it sooner than the more expensive counterpart.

Often times you would have replaced the cheap product multiple times before it’s more expensive counterpart runs out, unintentionally spending more money than you would have by buying the better quality product in the first place.

With good care, a good quality school blazer or shoe can outlive several school generations. During my high school career, my pin-stripe school blazer had had a rich and full life before it was gifted to me. I know this because uniform retailers had stopped stocking the style several years before. When I applied at the school for my eldest daughter, I was surprised to find the pinstripe still going strong, several decades after being decommissioned.

Add school items to your Christmas or birthday wish lists:

Now, I’m not saying buy your child’s school stationery as their gift (though one particularly tough year my mom did exactly that and we didn’t hate her for it) but, if you buy composite gifts, rather than just one big gift, consider adding a few stationery items in the mix.

Shop the sales:

Stationery requirements tend to change as the child progresses but there are some staples on every list; glue sticks, scissors, pencils, colour pencils, erasers, sharpeners, copy paper, etc. If you spot these on sale during the year, buy and stock.

Check your existing stock:

Today’s Parent advises that parents first check what kids already have before they buy.

I have found that stationery lists have not changed since the pandemic and with my children only spending half the time at school than they normally would, the stationery goes a little further too. Check what stationery is still good to go before you replace it.

The site advises: “Before you start making any actual purchases, do a sweep of your house. Check through your closets, storage bins, your art supplies and even last year’s school bags for extra supplies you may have laying around.”

During the holidays, school supplies tend to go travelling around the house so this is a great tip to avoid duplicate buys.

Swap with friends:

Money Crashers advises a swap party.

“Coordinate with your friends and neighbours and host a school and office supply swap before you head out shopping,” the site says.

“For instance, you might have reams of loose-leaf paper you bought on sale, but you’ll never use it all. Meanwhile, your friend might have several packs of pencils or a pencil case they’d be willing to trade for some of that paper.”

Uniform items that no longer fit could also be traded at swap parties which may be a great way to socialise in the quiet first few weeks of the new year but don’t forget your mask and stay 1.5 metres apart.

Follow retailers on social media:

Money Crashers also advises that you keep an eye on retailer’s social media pages for sales or competitions. Online companies also offer loyalty discount codes on social media.

Incentivise school supplies:

Younger children often lose more stationery than they use. Some older children can be careless too, but if there is a pocket money penalty attached to lost items, they’ll learn to be careful a lot more careful.

And if your child has their eye on that expensive brand name item that all the other pupils have, Money Crashers also advises that you make them work for it.

“Assign them chores,” the site’s Heather Levin advises. “My parents did this to me, and I lived through the experience. It also made me examine in a very real way how badly I wanted to buy some ‘must-have’ gear.

“Most of the time, when I had to spend my own money on something — money I had to use my own hours to earn — I discovered I didn’t really want it as badly as I thought I did.”