Back to School: Getting uniform ready without breaking the bank

School is coming, ready or not, and it’s time for parents as well as kids to get ready. Herald reporter (and mum) Kirsty Wynn offers a practical guide to what you need to know. Today: Uniforms.

It is that time of the year again when school heads back and the cash card comes out.

Payments for donations and devices can often be spread throughout the year but to buy a new school uniform the cost is upfront.

Depending on the school, a full secondary school uniform will leave little change from $600 – not including shoes.

One parent spoken to by the Herald said the high cost meant his year nine daughter would start college this year with one shirt, one skirt, and two pairs of socks.

“Everything is particular to the school and has to be correct so there [are] no alternatives,” he said.

“We will have to wash the shirt and socks each day and I’ll buy her a jersey when it gets colder.”

Price, stockist, and style of uniforms were decided by the Board of Trustees of individual schools so varied throughout the country.

Waterlea Primary School at Mangere Bridge had a more relaxed approach with their uniform which was sold through The Warehouse.

Mum-of-two Lisa Muggeridge bought a new uniform when her daughter Savannah, now 8, started. That has been passed on to sister Grace, 6.

“I have had to spend a bit overall because I am busy with work and can’t function with only a couple of tops and pants,” Muggeridge said.

“They have a few shirts each so if no washing is done for days it is not an issue.”

The branded shirts cost $29 from The Warehouse and are only replaced when the girls outgrow them.

The school skirts are $32 but Muggeridge said there are similar ones available elsewhere for $10 so buys them instead.

According to the school website children can wear any shoes as long as they can play and “powerwalk” in them.

Cutting cost

Families can save hundreds of dollars on uniform costs with a bit of forward-thinking.

There are dozens of dedicated second-hand uniform pages on Facebook and schools often have market days or ‘pre-loved’ uniform racks at school.

Auckland mum Amber Cambie started a second-hand uniform page for East Auckland schools when her family was on a single income and faced with buying a $400 uniform.

“We started six years ago and went from 100 members in the first month to 1000 in the second month.

“We now have more than 4200 members with 10 new members each day.”

Cambie said parents save an average of $300 a uniform by buying from the site.

“People love the site and are usually very fair,” she said.

“You can buy a really good uniform for about $50 and often people will sell what they have at around the same price to help someone else out.”

Cambie approves each post on the site and has had to remove some sellers who glean free goods from other sites and sell on hers.

“You can tell if they have uniforms from 10 different schools they are there for the wrong reason,” she said.

“We want to help parents save, not make money.”

Cambie said there was nothing wrong with buying pre-loved uniforms – especially as most children outgrew clothing before it wore out and spent two years in uniforms at the most.

“It also teaches kids a valuable lesson that not everything in life needs to be perfect and brand new.”

“For parents that $300 dollars can be spent on something else.”

Most schools run some sort of second-hand uniform programme.

At Mahurangi College parents can use the uniform recycling initiative UniCycle.

The purpose of UniCycle is to help reduce the cost of purchasing uniforms for families while reducing the amount of textile waste going to the local landfills.

Families earn credits for second-hand uniform items they put into the UniCycle wheelie bin.

They can then use the credits to purchase a more suitable second-hand uniform. If the child is leaving school the family can donate the credits to another family.

Before buying new:

* Ask at school what second-hand uniform services they provide
* Search on local community pages – there are often cheap or free uniforms posted
* Check the racks at your local thrift/church shop – plenty of people drop quality uniforms here instead of at school
* Look on Facebook for second-hand uniform sites in your area.

Families experiencing financial hardship may qualify for assistance from Work and Income New Zealand or charities such as Variety.

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