kids

This mum school-preps like a boss. Here are her best tips.

If your household hasn’t been rudely thrown into choas as every family member prepares to return to the real world, how do you even know it’s the end of January?

Because as all parents know, the start of the school year prep isn’t just about stationery lists and school uniforms. January’s closure heralds the return to after school sports, music lessons, the teeth-breakfast-car rush, complicated hair-dos because, “Janey’s mum does this for her every day!” and finding the lunchbox balance between food they’ll eat versus food that won’t score you a note from the teacher.

As carefully curated Pinterest and Instagram parenting accounts make us feel more disorganised than ever, Jody Allen, Stay At Home Mum, gave Mamamia some ways to help parents to control their budgets, even as chaos descends.

Here are the Queensland mother-of-two’s best tips:

School uniforms

“I buy the generic uniforms where possible from Kmart,” Allen says. The tops might have logos, but the shorts and socks can often be found much cheaper elsewhere than at shops that specialise in school uniforms.

“Shops like Kmart and Target will also have lots of things on sale in January, which means that you can also afford to buy items in larger sizes than the ones you need, and keep them for when the kids are older,” Allen explains.

Another thing she points out about uniforms is that Facebook groups are an excellent source.

“Just search ‘buy/swap/sell’ pages for your area and a group will probably come up – there are so many of them.”

Allen reassures us that the uniforms in such groups are usually in excellent condition, as they haven’t been worn much before kids grow out of them. So no child ever feels they are wearing something worn out.

Don’t fall for brand names

“I made this mistake once and I’ll never do it again,” admits Allen, explaining that one year she bought expensive school bags for her boys, and regretted it when she saw the state that they ended up in.

“Primary school children are pretty rough on their school bags, and it’s just not worth buying something that you hope will still look nice at the end of the year. You’re better off buying something inexpensive that can easily be replaced at the start of the next year.”

Allen says the same goes for school shoes, which can often cost as much as $120 at specialty stores.

“I buy the $6.50 shoes from Kmart for my boys, because they don’t need to last the whole year. They grow out of them too quickly for that.”

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The dreaded stationery and book list

“I did my own school stationery list comparison between the local newsagent and Officeworks, and I found a $40 difference, not just overall, but per list for each boy,” Allen says.

She also swears by the School List Service that’s available on the Officeworks website.

“When the kids get their lists at the end of the year, I just upload them and let Officeworks do the work!”

Allen explains that the store guarantees the price at the time, so you know what you’re up for. But they also adjust the list if an item goes on special. This way, you know what the maximum you will need to pay when school returns.

And the best part? “They find and pack everything for you in January, ready for school, so you don’t even need to walk the aisles.”

Which of course is great news for the budget – because we all know that shopping in-store with kids can end in a number of unnecessary purchases.

Another of Allen’s Officeworks tips is that she has found them “comparatively cheap for computers. So it’s well worth seeing what they have to offer if you need to purchase one for your kids’ school work”.

Allen also swears by covering  school books with replaceable plastic sleeves and avoiding the dreaded time-consuming adhesive plastic.

“They’re hardy and long-wearing, and they can be re-used the next year.”

LISTEN: Film critic Marc Fennell shares his tips for surviving a trip to the movies with the whole family.

Lunches

Allen’s tips can apply to the lunchbox of every family member.

She advises: “Don’t buy plastic packaging for convenience. Even for yoghurt. A bulk container can be easily dispensed into re-usable tubs, it barely takes any time to do.”

In terms of avoiding a costly Monday morning Tuck Shop lunch order, Allen swears by prepping on Sunday night.

“I make the week’s lunches for my kids, and freeze them all. I promise they still taste great. Try it. You just need to use fresh bread, then seal well, and freeze immediately.”

Doing this has also meant that Allen doesn’t buy more bread mid-week because her earlier loaf has dried out.

“And one last must – invest in a drink bottle that doesn’t leak!”

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