How to save money on school costs

a child sits behind a pile of books, pot of pencils, apple and pair of glasses
Claire Wong

Digital Content Producer

Five ways to cut back spending on your kids’ school costs 

For anyone with kids at school right now, how to save money on school costs is probably a question you’ve thought about. And as the cost of living increases, we’re all looking to make savings wherever we can. From uniforms to school dinners, to making sure they have the right stationery, there are plenty of ways the cost can creep up. So we’ve gathered together some ideas to help you make sure you’re not spending more than you need to.

1. Check if you’re eligible for free school meals

If you’re thinking about how to save money on school costs, it’s a good idea to find out if you actually have to pay for your child’s school meals, because in many instances they can be provided for free.

Free school meals are available to many families around the UK, but it works a little differently depending on where you live.

In England

In England, all children in reception, Year 1 or Year 2 of a state school can get free school meals. You don’t need to apply via the council for this.

Also, if you receive certain benefits, you may be able to apply for your child to have free school meals even if they’re older than Year 2. You can apply via your local authority website. Check if you’re eligible here.

In Wales

In Wales, if your child attends a state school and you receive certain benefits, you may be able to apply for your child to have free school meals. Find full details of which benefits qualify. You can apply via your local authority website.

In Scotland

In Scotland, children at local council schools can get free school lunches during term-time in primary 1 to 5. After this age, you may still qualify for free school meals if your child is at a local council school (i.e. not an independent school or home educated) and you receive certain benefits. Find full details of which benefits qualify.

If you don’t receive benefits, but are experiencing financial hardship (because you’re waiting for your first Universal Credit notice, or your immigration status means you cannot receive benefits) then your child may still be eligible. Contact your local council to apply.

In Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, if you receive certain benefits then your child can get free lunches at school. Free milk is available for children at many schools too. You can apply for free school meals here.

2. Get help with the cost of wraparound care

If your child goes to a breakfast club before school, or an after school club, the cost can quickly mount up, but you may be able to get some money towards this.

If you already claim tax credits, you can add an extra amount of Working Tax Credit to help cover the cost of childcare. These are commonly used towards the cost of childcare for pre-school-aged children, but what you might not know is that you can also use them towards the cost of wraparound care for your kids once they start school as well. That could apply to breakfast clubs or after school clubs.

3. Saving money on school uniforms

School uniforms can be a massive drain on the budget, and it can feel like kids grow out of their clothes faster than you can buy them!

Start by checking your school’s uniform policy to find out how flexible it is. Do you need to buy a top with the school logo on it, or will any white polo shirt do? 

Remember that you don’t usually need to buy everything directly from the school’s uniform supplier. Anything that doesn’t need to have school branding on it (for example the classic grey trousers or skirts) can probably be bought more cheaply from a supermarket or high street clothes shop. Have a look online to see which is the best value for money.

And make the most of second hand sales. Most schools will organise these as a way for parents to sell old uniform their children have outgrown. 

You may be able to get a grant towards the cost of your child’s school uniform if you live in Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland. If you live in England, check your local council’s website to see if they offer any help towards the cost of school uniform and PE kit. 

If you live in Scotland and have a low income then you might qualify for the Best Start Grant, which includes a one-off payment of £294.70 when your child is around school starting age. It could help you pay for uniform, a new school bag or school trips.

And finally, the all important topic of labelling those school clothes! Having your child’s name in all their school uniform is a good way to make sure it doesn’t get lost and need replacing. But you don’t need to pay for name tapes and spend hours sewing them in. You can just as easily use a stamp with your child’s name, or even a marker pen. 

4. Saving money on other supplies like stationery

If you dread the pre-term shopping trip to buy a mountain of notebooks and highlighter pens, then we’ve got some tips to help you stay in control of your finances when faced with a pack of 50 neon post it notes.

  • Make a list of what you need vs want. What are the essentials?

  • Check what you’ve already got at home. No point buying a pack of new pens if there were already a dozen hiding under the sofa.

  • Set a budget before you start shopping. Decide how much you are willing to spend. Sometimes it’s helpful to write the number down!

  • Often the decorative stationery is the most expensive in the shop. If your kids are drawn to the most colourful, branded, costly notebooks on the shelves, suggest that you buy some plain ones and spend some time decorating and personalising them together.

5. Set a budget and teach your children to stick to it

There are plenty of school events with the option to spend money, from the sweet stall at the disco to the gift shop on the school trip. Firstly, you shouldn’t feel pressured to spend money on these things if there’s no room in your budget. But if you decide you can spare some change for these events, it’s the perfect opportunity to teach your kids about budgets so they gain some vital life skills!

Explain how much they’ve got, and that it’s up to them to choose how to spend it, but that when it’s gone, it’s gone. That way you don’t end up spending more than you want to, and they’re prepared for handling finances when they’re older.

Hopefully these ways to save money on school costs will help ease some of the pressure as the cost of living rises and we all look for ways to reduce spending. And if you’re interested in more ways to teach children good money management skills, we’ve got that covered too.