School can be a ‘climax of financial burdens’

Dunedin agencies say the cost of going back to school, coming hard on the heels of Christmas and school holidays, is a major financial burden for many families.

Presbyterian Support Otago acting practice manager Jollene Warrington said, for many families on low and middle incomes, back to school costs led to increased financial hardship.

Dunedin Budget Advisory Service executive officer Andrew Henderson agreed, saying the demands of going back to school resulted in a "big climax of financial burdens all at once for families with school-age children".

Families may need to go into debt to pay for school costs such as uniforms, devices, and stationery, Mrs Warrington said.

This was heightened when there was more than one child in the family.

Some families could use the option of an after-pay service which would allow them to pay the costs off over a six-week period.

"However, most families are struggling to make ends meet and they don’t have any reserves,"

she said.

"These extra costs can leave a hole in the food budget, or may mean they can only partially pay a power bill, as they don’t want their children to miss out."

The best thing families could do was to try to budget for the back-to-school spike in costs, by putting aside small amounts of money during the previous year, Mr Henderson said.

"We have the knowledge to help people work out how much to put aside, although for some families even a small amount is difficult."

The New Year period used to be quiet for the agency, but demand had increased massively in recent years, he said.

"This time of year is just hard for a lot of people."


  • When buying a new school uniform, people can be expected to pay between about $400 and $1000 for intermediate and high school pupils.
  • While uniform items vary from school to school, most pupils are required to wear a blazer, jersey, shirt or blouse, black leather shoes, and a skirt, shorts or pants.
  • Other uniform items include a tie, vest, jacket and socks.
  • Primary school uniforms are cheaper, usually ranging from about $200 to $400.
  • Most Dunedin primary schools opt for a uniform of a polo shirt, shorts, a skirt or a skort, track pants and a fleece jumper.
  • Some primary schools have no uniform.


Some tips that may help families 
struggling with back to school costs:
  • Approach the school to see if they have any secondhand uniforms, and ask if the school will accept repayments spread out across the school year.
  • Get in touch with Family Works or Budget Advice for help navigating some of the supports available to families, such as the JR McKenzie Trust.
  • Variety NZ may be able to help out with sponsorship for school costs and sports activities.
  • Family Works can help advocate with Work and Income New Zealand and can sometimes provide electricity credits to eligible families.
  • Agencies can partner with Good Shepherd and BNZ to provide zero and low interest ‘Good Loans’ to eligible people — these loans can be used for a variety of needs, such as purchasing a device for school pupils.

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