Parents could pay 13 per cent more in back to school expenses than they did last year - an average of $538 per student, reaching nearly $900 for some - according to a Big W-commissioned report.
"It's a huge hit to family budgets," personal finance expert Joel Gibson, writer of Kill Bills, said. "That is a really significant annual bill that comes right off the bat of Christmas and school holidays, which are also very expensive times."
Rachael Sowden, president of the New England P&C, agrees that back to school is always an expensive and stressful time of year - particularly in this region, where many families have been financially affected by drought and bushfires.
NSW families already spend an average of $514 per child on school uniforms, shoes, and equipment, according to Big W's BIG School Report. Technology and devices can add another $238 per student - meaning parents can face a bill of $800 to $900 for each child.
And NSW is only fourth in the report's back to school expense rankings: Victorian, South Australian, and Queenslander families have to pay more.
"This research," Mr Gibson said, "is a wake-up call for school principals and education departments to be very cognizant of the sort of pressures they're putting on families at this time of year, when a lot of families are already doing it tough."
The major driver, Mr Gibson believes, are the increasing requirements for technology and devices that schools put on parents.
Under the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, introduced in 2013, schools can require students to use their personal mobile electronic devices in the classroom.
Under the BYOD system, a NSW Department of Education spokesperson said, students and their parents or carers are solely responsible for the care and maintenance of their devices. (The policy is not compulsory at a state level; schools introduce BYOD on an individual basis based on consultation with their communities.)
Educators argue that BYOD makes it easier for students to collaborate, learn at their own pace, and learn beyond the classroom. The financial benefits are obvious: schools don't have to buy computers. The school may save money, but they put the financial burden onto the student and their family.
"This adds a big extra impost onto families' back to school budgets," Mr Gibson said.
The solution, he believes, is that schools need to provide those resources for students, rather than putting it back on the families.
"Schools don't try to make it expensive for families; they try to make it as economical as possible," Mrs Sowden said.
She advises families struggling financially to speak to their school principal.
"If families are doing it tough, schools often have funds - but parents have to ask. They're often reluctant to do that, so schools have to make it abundantly clear that there isn't any shame in asking, if they need to."
The school may provide discretionary funding to support families in times of need. "Things may be tight at home; mum or dad might have been laid off due to the drought; or they might have lost their homes in a bushfire," Mrs Sowden said.
If an electronic device is needed, students might be able to borrow it from the school library, or source it at home. If a uniform is required, some schools provide vouchers to go to a store. Schools might also have a clothing pool, or parents might sell second-hand uniforms on Facebook.
The first couple of the term are pupil-free days; then would be a good time for parents to consult the principal, Mrs Sowden recommended.
Back to school money saving tips
Many families once relied on the Schoolkids Bonus, introduced under the Gillard government - phased out in 2016. (The bonus replaced the Education Tax Refund introduced under the Howard government.)
"Now, people just have to remember to save for it," Mrs Sowden said.
The average back to school expense of $800 to $900 per student is about half the annual power bill, Mr Gibson says - and like power bills, families should plan for their yearly back to school costs.
Mr Gibson and Big W have put out a Back to School Savings Guide to help parents plan and budget for school supplies.
The guide includes tips and survival strategies on how to spend as little and make back-to-school shopping as stress free as possible.
- Plan ahead, Mr Gibson advises. "The earlier you start, the less you'll spend, and the less stressful it will be." Starting now will give families time to research online, hunt down bargains and special deals, and not shop in a mad rush at the last minute.
- Fly solo at the shops if you can. Leave children at home, if possible; two-thirds of parents say that their kids pester them into overspending. Instead, talk to them beforehand about to buy.
- Use the internet to do as much online as possible. Thirty per cent of parents already do all their shopping online.
- Plan ahead for next year. Put $10 in a jar or bank account, Mr Gibson advises. "Then you won't even need to worry about back to school when it comes around next year. You'll already have all the cash you need set aside."