Back to school savings


UNIFORMS OFF Ensuring kids change into ‘play’ clothes and shoes when they get home helps their uniforms last longer.

Green Living
McKinley Neal

It’s nearly time to go back to school, and this year it feels more daunting to face the costs associated with a ‘free’ education.
We have two children in school for the first time, so we have ticked our way through the lists and have tried to find savings and efficiencies wherever possible.
We quickly realised that the commercial hype around ‘back-to-school’ is the biggest pressure, as advertising encourages people to think they need to buy the newest gear for their kids, and shops are relentless in advertising the goods they have for sale, including directly to children. We recognised we would have to make a conscious effort to highlight how many items we have that are ready for school.
We split it into three areas— clothing, lunch essentials and stationery—to take stock over a couple of days.
We first tried on all the kit that we had for the oldest child, and decided what fit still and what did not. She had outgrown all but her skirt, but we had also bought her clothes a bit bigger initially, so they lasted for the two years of infant classes. Luckily, her younger sister is able to use all but the tights that she outgrew, so we had a lot less new to buy. Uniform exchanges within school communities can greatly reduce costs, so it would be great to see more of these.
We have found that spot cleaning jumpers and sweat shirts instead of washing them often makes a big difference to their longevity, especially since we bought standard-quality clothes to begin with. We also try to be strict about changing into ‘play’ clothes and shoes straight after school so the uniforms don’t get soiled outside or at dinner.  
We had requests for new lunch bags and bottles, but we discussed how great it is that we have used the same ones for three years already. I mentioned that I have used my water bottle for five years now, and that the dents around the bottom remind me of the adventures it has been on. We replaced the lid on one bottle that was a bit chewed, and we clean our bottles by hand with a bottle brush to protect the finish on the outside. The stainless steel lunch boxes were an investment two years ago, and because they are so neutral and robust they don’t go out of style.
The stationery items can be harder, as there are fancy rubbers, pencils and markets, and we buy only loose and plastic-free items that I have sourced for the shop, including normal coloured pencils and wider crayons that can be used in place of twistable items. We have ‘cooler’ pencil cases that have come from older friends, as secondhand sourcing yields items in amazingly good condition most of the time. We also offer the incentive that some of the money that we save by reusing instead of buying new can be used for a back-to-school treat.
This time of year can be challenging on purse strings, but these few steps have really made a difference in our household, to our wallets and to our environmental impact. What’s happening in your house?

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic toods, reusable goods, household products, eco-trendly personal care Items and gifts.