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The lunch box tax: Families to spend $778 million on back-to-school shopping


Parents around the country are forking out hundreds of dollars on their child's back-to-school shopping list.

Finder has crunched the numbers on the cost of school essentials and found that sending a child to primary school loaded with brand new items like pens, a lunch box and a school bag can set families back more than $330 – that cost nearly doubles to $630 for a secondary school student.

Subsequent years cost an average of over $100 for primary students and $200 for secondary.

Bessie Hassan, mother of two and money expert at Finder, said it can be difficult for parents to meet these costs.

"The start of a new school year is a huge financial burden for many families while they're still dealing with the debt hangover from Christmas.

"From lunch boxes to uniforms the costs can really stack up – especially if you have a few children," she said.

"Many parents will be dreading how they will afford all the items their children need and the sad truth is that many will have to replace lost hats and lunch boxes as the year goes on."

This figure is even more surprising considering the fact that it does not take school fees into account.

A Finder analysis of ABS and Australian Scholarships Group (ASG) data reveals that yearly school fees amount to a total of $41 billion for Australian parents across the country.

While just 15% of all school students are enrolled in a private school, private school fees make up 43% of all school fees for Aussie parents.

Similarly, 1 in 5 students (20%) are enrolled in a Catholic school – but Catholic school fees make up for 29% of all fees.

Hassan wanted to remind parents that there are ways to ease the burden of back-to-school costs.

"Make use of swap and sell groups where you can find pre-loved school supplies without the hefty price tag of buying brand new," she said.

"Strategic back-to-school shopping is an opportunity to teach your child how to budget and spend responsibly.

"Doing the maths and reviewing prices together online can help teach your kids the difference between needs and wants to help them avoid impulsive purchases down the track."

For a list of back-to-school deals visit:

Breakdown of Australian school fees:

Type of schoolPercentage of students that attend these schoolsPercentage of all Australian school feesAverage yearly school fees

Source: Finder, ABS, Australian Scholarships Group (ASG)


  • Finder used ABS statistics to calculate the total number of school children entering primary and secondary schools in 2021.
  • Statistics on school fees were collected from a survey conducted by the Australian Scholarships Group, which calculated the total cost of school fees for a child from preschool to year 12. Finder averaged these figures over 13 years to find the average annual fee for public, Catholic and private schools.
  • Statistics on school supplies are based on Finder's list of back-to-school items. Prices were gathered from Kmart and Officeworks.
  • For secondary students, additional supplies were included: maths set, calculator, maths text book, highlighters and folders. Prices were gathered from Officeworks.

How to save on back-to-school costs:

  • Write a list and set a budget. Fancy point-of-sale displays and licensed products can be an easy way to end up spending more than you need to on the kids' supplies. Going in with your list and budget ready to go will make it easier to say no to the nice-to-haves so you know you're only coming out with the essentials.
  • Shop online to avoid making impulse buys. Sometimes shopping in-store with the kids is not the most cost-effective way to do your back-to-school shopping. With all that exciting stationery at eye level it can become harder to say no as the shopping day goes on. Jumping online will save you time and money as well as minimising the amount of times you hear "Pleaaaase mum".
  • Re-use what you can. While it can be tempting to send your kids to school with a brand new everything at the start of the year, this isn't always necessary. There are plenty of items like school bags and lunch boxes that will outlast the school year without needing to be replaced. This is also a great lesson for your kids to only shop for what they need.
  • Label everything. Replacing lost items throughout the year can really add up so adding a label to your child's belongings will help those missing items find their way home so money stays in your back pocket.

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