With the summer holidays soon drawing to a close, demand for free school uniforms has rocketed amid the cost of living crisis.
The Children’s Society, which has been campaigning for affordable school uniforms, estimates that the average uniform for secondary schools cost £337 in 2020.
With prices soaring, parents will be looking to make savings wherever possible.
Here are 12 top tips on how to save on school uniforms from consumer group Which?:
1. Buy second-hand
Parents can check if their child’s school or Parent Teacher Association (PTA) has a second-hand selling group, where you may be able to pick up pre-loved items.
For example, Which? heard from a parent who helped out at a second-hand uniform sale where uniform items were 25% cheaper than buying them new, and funds went towards the Parent Teachers and Friends Association (PTFA).
While this might not be possible at every school, you could try organising your own second-hand sale with the school or check social media sites and apps such as Facebook Marketplace or Freecycle.
2. Don’t be tricked by multipacks
Many school uniform items are sold in multipacks of two, four and five pieces.
Although this might be good value for basic white polo shirts that kids might need to wear fresh each day, it might not be necessary to buy so many sets of school trousers or skirts.
Always work out the price per item to see if you’ll save by buying more. For example, Tu at Sainsbury’s (SBRY.L) sells a multipack of four black woven school trousers for nine-year-olds for £16, which is £4 per pair. But you’ll pay the same price per item if you buy the two-pack, for £8.
So don’t feel you have to buy more than you need.
3. Buddy up
Alternatively, if you spot a great multipack offer and you don’t really need all of the items, parents could buddy up with a fellow parent and split the costs.
Buddying up with families with children of different ages is also a great way to pass around clothes when they’re outgrown.
4. Size up
Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to buy uniform in the next size up, especially if it’s an expensive item such as a blazer.
You can also try taking up long school trousers and letting the hem down as your child grows.
Some shops, such as Marks & Spencer, sell trousers with a “grow-proof hem”, which are made with extra length. When children grow taller, you can let the trousers down by unpicking the hem and pressing with an iron.
5. Check for grants
Some parents will be eligible for a school uniform grant worth £200, depending on their income and where they live.
The grants are typically available for people receiving benefits such as universal credit and child tax credit. You may also be eligible if your child receives free school meals.
Not every council in England offers this, but you can check what’s on offer via the government website. Grant schemes also differ across the UK.
6. Double-check the uniform policy
Make sure you check the school uniform policy in full and know what you need before you buy anything.
For example, some schools may require students to wear a full pleated skirt or black trousers instead of grey.
If you have to buy branded items and you need help with the costs, speak to the school as some offer vouchers to help out.
7. Look in outlet stores
Some major shoe shops have online outlet stores where you can pick up discounted shoes for a fraction of the cost.
Which? checked and found some girls’ school shoes for £32 on Clarks Outlet, a third (33%) less than the full price of £48.
Elsewhere, you can get cheaper footwear from Office Offcuts, which sells “end of line, ex-display and last pairs of shoes”, and all stock is new.
There’s also an ex-display range at Schuh.
8. Keep uniform in good condition to last longer
While you can’t stop kids from outgrowing their uniforms, you can keep clothes in good condition to delay having to buy replacements.
Polishing school shoes regularly will protect them and leave them looking smarter as well.
9. Remember to label clothes
It’s not unusual for uniform items to go missing throughout the year. In fact, research suggests that three-quarters of primary school children lose one to two items of uniform per year.
Parents can reduce the risk of having to fork out for new items by labelling everything with their child’s name.
You can buy label names that you iron or sew onto clothes for around £3.50.
10. Search for deals
Many retailers offer deals and discounts on uniforms at this time of year, so it’s worth looking and shopping around for the best ones.
For example, Which? found Kickers is running a family deal that offers 20% off if you buy two pairs of school shoes, or 25% off three pairs.
Meanwhile, Aldi is currently selling lots of school uniform items, including a girl’s black pleated skirt for just £1.75.
11. Search for discount codes and loyalty apps
Coupert and Pouch are free shopping tools that offer to automatically find every voucher available in one click and apply them to your basket.
You can also get offers by signing up to a loyalty programme. For example, the H&M club is free to join. It gives all members free delivery and you can build up points for every purchase, which eventually leads to money-off vouchers.
12. Keep an eye on the sales
Sales offer a great chance to save money on more expensive items such as winter coats or shoes.
Which? recommends setting a budget, making a list of items you need to buy, and noting their full price — that way, you’ll be able to see whether you’re really getting a bargain when the sale begins.
It can also pay to buy out of season. For example, Which? found a few school summer dresses on sale at Tu. Although kids won’t get much use out of them for the Autumn term, they’ll have them for next spring.