10 ways to save on back-to-school costs

Get your school year off to a smooth start with these 10 easy ways to save money in Term 1, and the latest figures on how much it really costs to get a good education for your child.

ASG’s 2017 Planning for Education Index shows the average family in Australia is now facing the price of buying an apartment to get their child through pre-school to their Grade 12 graduation.

Children starting pre-school in 2017 can expect to pay on average $62,100 for a public school education and $397,400 for private school. A child born in 2017 will be looking at more like $68,000 to $487,000 for their school years.

With the kids going back to school next week, we had a look at some easy ways to save during the Term 1 rush.

10 easy ways to save

We’ve reported before on how public school is not just a cheaper option – it can help children to do better academically and socially, from primary school NAPLAN testing to high school finals. ASG’s data confirms that public school is vastly cheaper across every area of school life.

Apart from this enrolment choice, here are our other favourite ways to save:

  1. Buy a quality backpack. As a kid I ripped through hundreds of dollars’ worth of shoddily-crafted backpacks before finally buying myself a sturdier version for my last year of high school. I still use that backpack now, more than 10 years later.
  2. Make a list with the kids. Lists keep you from over-buying after hours of stressful shopping. Let your kids “help” you write the list, so your kids know that buying off a booklist is not like Christmas. Once they get older, you can teach them to write out the list and the pricing budget themselves. Officeworks even has a school booklist service, so you can drop off a list of supplies and come back later to collect the whole lot – saves time and money.
  3. Go shopping without the kids, so they can’t guilt you into buying a fancier notebook and glitter pens.
  4. Buy clothes big. Kids grow quickly, so buy shoes half a size larger than they need right now, and skirts and shorts in the size up. If you don’t already know how to raise and sew a hem by hand on too-big-right-now clothes, check out Kidspot’s how to video.
  5. Label everything, from hats to shirts to Maths textbooks. Lost property is inevitable, but it should come back to you instead of being wasted money.
  6. Stationery should not be expensive, since it is usually the first thing that will get torn, lost, and stepped on. Forget about Smiggle, Typo and Kikki.K – go to Big W or the dollar store, and check if you’ve already got some stationery basics at home.
  7. Make the tuckshop a once-a-month treat, not an everyday money drain. Packed lunches take time and effort to make, but they are hands-down cheaper.
  8. Second-hand uniforms aren’t just at the second-hand uniform store. Try Gumtree, School Xchange, or your local area’s Buy Sell Swap page on Facebook.
  9. If possible, let Mum do the shopping, not Dad. Research by the American National Retail Foundation found men spent 25% more than women when they did the back-to-school shopping.
  10. Spread the costs across the year – maybe don’t buy the school jumper until March or April.

Warning: Money traps

Technology is a new big hitter that has emerged in the last few years. “BYO device” is the new catchphrase of many public and private schools. This can mean shelling out a thousand dollars for a tablet, only to find out a laptop would be better for writing assignments, or your iPad isn’t compatible with the school’s Microsoft programs. Ask the school for a device recommendation, and do your research before you buy.

Sports uniforms are another traditional money pit. Public schools are kinder about this; they usually have one type of sports uniform for all sports, and will let you borrow gear like hockey sticks from the school. Private schools will happily ask parents to fork out for their school brand of rugby jersey and netball skirt. Second-hand is definitely the way to go, since sports uniforms look faded after its first few grass stains anyway.

What does it cost to educate a child?

The Australian Scholarships Group (ASG) was founded in 1974 by a group of parents who wanted to help Aussie kids get the best possible start in life. They are the largest provider of financial education scholarships in Australia and have helped more than 520,000 kids get an education. So they’re well-placed to do the research on what it costs to put a child through school.

What costs what

We took a closer look at what each part of the schooling venture costs, according to ASG’s average for metropolitan areas:

  • Uniforms: ASG’s data shows clothing can now cost $288 (public school) to $558 (private school) per year for primary school kids, and $405 (public) to $620 (private) for high school students.
  • Computers: Even primary schoolers are paying $382 (public) to $481 (private) on computers. High schoolers are looking at a whopping $673 (public) to $718 (private) for BYO technology.
  • Fees: The fees are the real kicker for private schools. Primary school fees cost $561 in public schools, vs. $11,520 for private school.
  • Extracurricular activities: These are expensive no matter where you go. (Shin pads for soccer practise; second-hand flute for concert band; debating club membership fee.) All together, this can cost $1,400 to $1,600 in primary school, and $1,700 to $1,900 in high school. Thankfully we know that extracurricular activities pay off for our kids, making them smarter, more capable in social situations, and more likely to get their first job easier.

Expensive states to go to school

The cost of schooling varies across the country, so ASG has released individual breakdowns of the average costs for each state and territory and compared them side-by-side in these infographics.

This year’s data shows the average family can expect to pay a fair chunk over the course of a child’s education from pre-school to Grade 12. The cheapest places to go to school included Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia.

If it’s been a while since you were in school yourself, let us clarify what each type of schooling means:

  • Public school means a government-funded state school.
  • Systemic school includes religious schools such as Catholic, Anglican, Uniting Church, Buddhist, Islamic, or Hindu.
  • Private school means a privately-funded (i.e. parent-funded) school.


  • Public school: $60,000 in Brisbane; $51,000 in regional areas
  • Systemic school: $243,000 in Brisbane; $199,000 in regional areas
  • Private school: $372,000 in Brisbane; $337,000 in regional areas

New South Wales

  • Public school: $75,000 in Sydney; $53,000 in regional areas
  • Systemic school: $250,000 in Sydney; $173,000 in regional areas
  • Private school: $575,000 in Sydney; $364,000 in regional areas

Australian Capital Territory

  • Public school: $52,000 in Canberra
  • Systemic school: $233,000 in Canberra
  • Private school: $447,000 in Canberra


  • Public school: $77,000 in Melbourne; $54,000 in regional areas
  • Systemic school: $224,000 in Melbourne; $161,000 in regional areas
  • Private school: $536,000 in Melbourne; $370,000 in regional areas

South Australia

  • Public school: $58,000 in Adelaide; $50,000 in regional areas
  • Systemic school: $246,000 in Adelaide; $197,000 in regional areas
  • Private school: $377,000 in Adelaide; $295,000 in regional areas


  • Public school: $45,000 in Hobart; $48,000 in regional areas
  • Systemic school: $201,000 in Hobart; $165,000 in regional areas
  • Private school: $433,000 in Hobart; $350,000 in regional areas

Western Australia

  • Public school: $56,000 in Perth; $44,000 in regional areas
  • Systemic school: $235,000 in Perth; $147,000 in regional areas
  • Private school: $407,000 in Perth; $319,000 in regional areas

Similar Topics:

Share this article