'How is one of the best resources…free?' Here's how much I'm spending on back to school for 3 kids.

Thanks to our brand partner, Microsoft

There’s something about going out to buy new school shoes for your brood of children and spending the equivalent of what a small used car probably costs that really gets you thinking.  

Among all the questions, could ‘barefoot school’ become a thing? Would the pairs from last year (with the flapping soles and hole in the toe) still be acceptable?

With two kids in primary school and one at pre-school, it all adds up, and quickly. This is how we’ve splashed the cash in 2021 to get our gang back to school (and where we’ve managed to make some savings).

1. Shoes and skorts and shorts… oh my.

COST: $250 for two pairs of black leather school shoes and one pair of sturdy trainers for kindy.

#Uniformlyf. Image: Supplied. 

My kids attend a public school where uniform is mandatory. And, despite my protestations, they just keep growing. I laugh at the mother I was, pre-school days, who thought a school shirt would last a whole year, possibly even two.

I’m not entirely sure what happens day to day at said school, but I am fairly sure mud wrestling and potentially some kind of experimental art involving paint throwing is part of the curriculum, such is the state of my kids' school clothes after around day three of the New Year. 

I have now learnt where to spend and where to save. Shirts, shorts and socks can all be bought outside of the school uniform shop (at greatly reduced prices). This is where I save. 

Shoes, on the other hand, are a spendy. I’ve tried cheap and cheerful in the past and been burned when they came back trashed by week five of Term One. Now, we go for hard-wearing, quality footwear and it lasts us the year. No, it isn’t cheap but, cost per wear, works out better than multiple pairs that end up falling apart at the mere sight of a puddle or scooter.

 2. The essential school supplies.

COST: Approximately $80 to $100 for new pencil cases, school supplies, a calculator, three new lunchboxes and water bottles. 

Packed and ready. Image: Supplied. 


Each year, we are presented with a list of what each of my kids will need for their new year of learning. Generally speaking, it’s all the essentials: pencils, pens, glue sticks, whiteboard markers, but oftentimes there are a few extras chucked in there to keep you on your toes. A specific type of HB pencil here, a scientific calculator there. 

Shopping around is the only way to come out the other side of the great school list with your wallet still reasonably intact. Get organised early, get online and be systematic in your approach so that you don’t end up with 14 glue sticks and a single pencil, like, ahem, someone I know did.

3. The world of tech.

COST: A kids' device for $97... and $99 worth of free programs.

Whether you’re a tech-savvy parent or someone who needs to get the kids to find Microsoft Excel for you on your desktop, tech is a huge part of both school and at-home learning. This became even more apparent in 2020 with all things COVID and learning from home.

Tech is a notoriously expensive part of back to school (part of life, really). And as a family with a work-from-home freelance writer for a mother, Head of Library Services and ICT as a father and three kids, it’s safe to say that we’ve spent a pretty penny over the years.

We currently have three laptops (one for each parent and my ‘retired’ laptop that the kids use) and a recently purchased tablet for my son who will be in year 4 next year. While the cost per use has meant that we’re technically in the black, the upfront expenditure (plus any maintenance for cracked screens and the like) is a big part of the tech budget.

So you can imagine my shock and delight when I found out that Microsoft Office 365 Education, THE program for students, is available to students for free via their school. No, that’s not a typo. It's normally $99. So, have a look and check that your child can get free access through their school institution.

All I needed was my kids' school email address and password and the account was activated. Both my older children now have full access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Teams and other great classroom tools. That means they can get super creative with Paint 3D, learn the art of a great presentation with PowerPoint (I still haven't mastered that) or use Microsoft's Learning Tools (which help students with learning differences such as Dyslexia).

No longer do we need to fiddle around creating presentations on my laptop which then end up incompatible with what the kids use at school.

My kids can log on, login to Office 365 Education and jump straight back to where they need, thanks to always-accessible files that update in real time. It also makes collaborative learning and group projects much more accessible, amazingly handy for eliminating homework dramas and the need for me to micromanage the process.

Now, if Microsoft could have a quiet word with school shoe manufacturers Australia wide and get them onboard with the ‘awesome product for free’ thing, we’ll be sorted.

What are the best savings you're making on back-to-school in 2021? Tell us below.

With the advent of hybrid and remote learning, the state of education is changing faster than ever—as are the life-ready skills students need to excel in college and the workforce. With more than 1.5 billion students around the world, preparing them for an increasingly digital future is one of society’s most urgent priorities. At Microsoft, our mission for education is to empower every student on the planet to achieve more. Equipped with inclusive, affordable technology that expands learning beyond the walls of the classroom, educators can focus on delivering student centered experiences and improving learning outcomes. Learn more at