Parents struggle as back-to-school costs soar: survey reveals financial stress and sacrifices

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Brina Biggs, senior manager at 1Life Insurance, discusses a recent survey conducted in December, highlighting that parents might compromise essential payments like medical aid and insurance to cover back-to-school costs.

Back-to-school has become a stressful time for parents all over South Africa due to the high cost of living. In fact, just over a quarter have indicated that they have to dig into their savings to make ends meet around this time of the year.

According to a survey carried out by 1Life Insurance over December 2023, 88% of parents will have to cut back on essential monthly expenses like food and transport to cover back-to-school expenses.

The survey, undertaken by 1 983 South Africans, shows that over 36% of parents are most worried about the cost of school fees, which comes as no shock if you consider the steep cost of quality education. Additionally, the second largest concern is school uniforms (31%) and as a close 3rd, the cost of stationery (29%).

“South Africans are under a lot of financial strain as it is. Add the cost of school essentials such as stationary, uniforms, and learning material, many cannot cover the costs without making drastic lifestyle changes, taking loans, or digging into their savings,” says Biggs.

When parents were asked how they cover back-to-school expenses, research showed that over 50% don’t save for these expenses, with 20% of consumers having to wait for their January salary to cover some of the costs. This means that kids start the school year without the necessary uniforms and stationary.

Meanwhile, others either use their year-end bonus (18%), some buy items through the year (11%), to avoid having to buy in bulk at the start of the new year, while some ask family members for help (10%), take out a loan (9%), use the social grant they receive from government (8%), or use their credit card (7%).

If we consider that less than 2% of students have access to a scholarship, the reality is that all costs fall onto parents, most of whom are already in a tight financial space. In fact, the research shows that around 98% of parents are experiencing financial strain with regard to back-to-school expenses. Coupled with this is the fact that over 50% of these households are single headed homes, with 72% having two or more children.

“The compounded impact of back-to-school pressures is that many consumers are likely to then sacrifice other essential debit order payments such as medical aid, insurances and the like, to ensure their kids can start school with everything they need – which of course can have much more dire consequences for the family’s financial security in the long term,” says Biggs.

“While certainly difficult in this economy, it is essential that consumers start planning and saving effectively for these expenses ensuring that they can honour their important payments and don’t have to start the year with debt,” she says.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and are not necessarily shared by Moonstone Information Refinery or its sister companies. The information in this article does not constitute estate or financial planning advice that is appropriate for every individual’s needs and circumstances.