Shop smarter and save on back to school costs

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Sending kids back to school can be an expensive business.

From deciding which brand of exercise books to buy from the stationery list, to school uniforms and new iPads - the bill can quickly tally to thousands.

Budget advice website sorted.org.nz says 36,000 Kiwi families needed financial help in 2011 from the Ministry of Social Development to get their kids back to school.

Tips on how to trim this year's costs.

The key to making it through the beginning of term without getting in more debt, or needing financial assistance, is to create a back-to-school money plan, sorted.org.nz says.

"List everything each of your children will need, including uniforms and shoes, new school clothes, school bags, fees, text and exercise books and stationery, bus or train passes and after-school care. Then, write the cost of each item and add them up. If the final sum is enough to make you consider home-schooling, ask where you can cut some of the costs.

"Work out what is essential and must be paid at the beginning of the year and which costs can be delayed another term, or spread out across the year to make your household budget more manageable."

The Australian Scholarships Group's (ASG) Education Programs New Zealand advises prioritising back-to-school purchases with high-expense items at the top of the list - where the biggest savings can be made.

"Use the internet to shop around for prices and compare value."

ASG also recommends adopting the three Rs - reduce, reuse and recycle - by buying less, swapping items between your children and other families, and reusing items from around the house for school.

Website Kiwi Families says before hitting the shops for new back-to-school merchandise, first check in last year's school bag. "Just because it's on their list, doesn't mean they need it. Tip their school bag out and see what items have survived. I know children love to get new stuff every year, but things like ring-binders, dividers and art folders can often be reused."

While stationery packs for new entrants cost only about $16, for older students, who may need a tablet computer such as an iPad (which retail upward of $700), the total back-to-school cost becomes increasingly daunting in the long run."

- Hamilton News

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