Cape Town - Back to school means back to harsh financial realities for many parents as they prepare for the start of the school year on Wednesday.
Many Grade 1 children will need a brand-new school uniform, bag, shoes, stationery and books as they begin their formal schooling, while older pupils will need new textbooks and bigger uniforms.
With the school year starting early, many parents have not had time to recover from festive season expenses yet and are struggling to find the money for back-to-school necessities.
Aleyzia van Rooy spent the weekend bargain-hunting to kit out her 6-year-old daughter Gabrella, who was starting Grade 1 at Holy Cross.
“Everyone knows in January you’ve just had Christmas, people are low on cash,” she said. “If you’re only in Grade 1, why do you need so much stationery? It’s ridiculous. Stuff is extremely expensive.”
Van Rooy plans to manage the costs by splitting them with Gabrella’s father and shopping for discounts.
“It’s too expensive alone,” she said. “I’ll try to get stuff on special. The blazer alone is R950. I’ll buy that later, in time for winter - in January, it’s not going to happen.”
Some retailers are capitalising on the January pinch for parents, with Shoprite even marketing a special of a basic school uniform for R100 in certain stores.
Western Cape Education Department (WCED) spokeswoman Bronagh Hammond said parents should budget in advance for the school expenses that arrive every January.
“Parents are well aware that they need to plan for additional expenses in January,” she said. “Schools have never opened after payday in the past, so the earlier date does not affect this.”
However, the WCED realises it’s a tough time for parents to afford big expenses.
“We are obviously aware of the financial constraints we are all under during this month, and throughout the year,” Hammond said. “We ask that schools take this into consideration when determining the needs of the school, taking into account the community it serves.”
The WCED does not specify any rules for what uniforms school require in different income communities. Uniforms are determined by the school governing bodies.
“Preferably, school uniforms should be as generic as possible such that they are obtainable from many suppliers,” Hammond said.
Various organisations also link up with schools in our poorer communities to assist with uniforms, if required.”