Top tips for parents worried about finances over school holidays

StepChange Debt Charity
StepChange Debt Charity
6 min readJul 19, 2022

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By Andy Shaw, Debt Advice Policy Officer

With over a third of parents worried their finances will suffer this summer, StepChange Debt Expert Andy Shaw shares his advice for saving money, getting all the help available and securing the best deals for families.

Image shows a purple background, with ‘Summer saving tips’ in white text, within an orange circle. To the right, an illustration of a woman with an orange jacket holding an orange piggy bank. Pound coins signs are floating above. Below, our Debt, Let’s start the conversation logo sits next to our StepChange logo.

The school holidays are set to begin this week, which can put an extra burden on already-stretched household budgets, as parents must juggle covering childcare, food, and keeping children entertained for several weeks. The cost of living crisis has put further financial pressure on low-income families, who are often disproportionately affected by rising prices. New online polling commissioned by StepChange Debt Charity has found that over a third of UK parents with children aged 18 and under (37%) are concerned they will fall into financial difficulty over the summer, rising to over half (51%) of parents on Universal Credit.¹

To help alleviate some of those worries, here are my top tips for budgeting, getting the best deals, and keeping the kids entertained over the holidays.

If you are feeling stressed about the cost of living and the impact it’s having on your finances, visit StepChange’s cost of living hub for support.

  1. Make sure you’re using all the help available for summer holiday childcare

You can get help paying for childcare if you’re using a registered childcare provider which is known as ‘approved childcare’ — visit the gov.uk website to check whether a provider is approved. You can apply for help with childcare costs if your child is under 18, and what you can apply for varies depending on your situation and the age of your child(ren). Visit the Government’s childcare calculator to find out what you might be eligible for.

2. If your child is eligible for free school meals, you can apply for holiday support

If your child is eligible for free school meals, you can apply for the Holiday Activity and Food Programme (HAF), for support during the school holidays. This is available for every school holiday but must be applied for before each one. What is involved in the programme varies by local authority but generally will include activities and healthy meals for some of the school holidays. Contact your local council to find out how to apply.

3. When buying summer items, such as clothing, family days out, or holidays, make sure you’re searching for any vouchers or online discount codes

A lot of online retailers, particularly if it’s your first-time shopping there, will offer discounts at the checkout. Doing a quick online search for a discount code or signing up to retailers’ newsletters can often give a small percentage off your shop. There are several mobile phone apps you can use to build up points you can then swap for retail vouchers or cash.

4. Consider shopping second hand in charity shops or online for cheaper prices on clothing and toys or using recycling websites, where people may be giving away items they no longer need for free

To save money on clothing, footwear, and toys, consider shopping second hand for cheaper items which can often be better-quality than buying new. There are plenty of ways to shop second hand nowadays, as well as charity shops there are websites and apps devoted to buying and selling pre-owned clothes. You may even find stuff for free by using a recycling app where people give away items they no longer need.

5. Check to see if your local council offers any help toward school uniform costs

While the school holidays are just beginning, you may be thinking ahead to the new school term and buying new school uniforms. Some local councils offer school uniform grants to those on low incomes, the amount given, and eligibility criteria varies by council. To check if your local council offers this, and whether you’d be eligible, visit the gov.uk website and use the postcode search tool.

6. Save money on food by planning ahead and batch cooking

Swapping your usual shop for cheaper options may help you release some funds for the summer holidays. To make your food shop easier and cheaper, plan ahead by creating a meal plan to ensure you only buy what you need, which will also be helpful when taking packed lunches on family days out. Switching to supermarket own brand products and batch cooking are also useful ways to reduce your food bill.

7. Look out for places that have special deals for kids to eat

Several of the large supermarkets and various restaurant chains have special offers where children can eat for free or for a reduced price when an adult meal is purchased. Visit the MoneySavingExpert website for more information about these offers.

8. Save money on public transport by looking out for special deals and signing up for ‘price alerts’

If you’re going on holiday this summer or for family days out around the UK, you can try to get the best deals on train fares by booking set time advance tickets, travelling at off-peak times, signing up for email alerts for when there are ‘rail sales’, and making sure you have a railcard if you’re entitled to one and travel frequently on National Rail services. Children under five can accompany a fare-paying passenger free of charge but can only occupy a seat not required by a fare-paying passenger. Children aged five to fifteen inclusive get a 50% discount on most tickets.

9. Check your local council for free events, days out or see what’s on at your local library

Most local councils and tourist information sites have listings of fun and free things to do in the local area. Take a look and see if you can fill the calendar with activities this summer, there may be some hidden gems on your doorstep that you’ve not heard about. Don’t forget to visit your local library to see if they are putting on any events for kids, or to borrow games and children’s books for free. Many museums and art galleries are often completely or partially free to attend, and usually have activities or play areas for children.

Finally, if you’re stuck of what to do on a rainy day, check with your local cinema to see if they offer cheaper tickets on certain days, or whether they show kid-friendly films for less.

10. Review your monthly spending to see where you could make savings by creating a budget

If you’re struggling to see where savings might be possible, it can help to do a full review of your income and outgoings to see where your money is being spent and understand what bills are the most important. This will be a helpful first step in taking control of your finances. Perhaps there are monthly direct debits to services you won’t need over the summer holidays, or you’re spending more on certain items than you’d like to — a budget will help you to get a clear picture of this. Visit StepChange’s website for a step-by-step guide on putting together a budget.

11. Try to avoid temptation from short term loans, sales, and online marketing for credit such as options to Buy Now, Pay Later

Taking out credit might seem like a quick and convenient way to get money fast, but it’s important to stop and think about the consequences of borrowing, and whether this may worsen your financial situation later on. Before you do borrow, think about whether you will be able to make repayments including interest. If you’re borrowing to pay for essential items, we would advise seeking holistic advice from a charity such as StepChange, as taking out credit will likely only worsen your financial situation.

12. See if you can increase the amount of money you have coming in

Even if it’s just by a small amount, increasing your income can make a big difference to your situation, and it isn’t always as difficult as it sounds. Start off by checking to see if you’re claiming all the help you’re entitled to, there may be some you aren’t aware you’d be eligible for. StepChange has a free online benefits calculator to help identify this.

For more ideas for saving money over the school holidays, visit StepChange’s website.

¹ All survey figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 4656 UK adults of which 1,126 are UK parents of children aged 18 and under. Fieldwork was undertaken between 11th — 13th July 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted to all UK adults (18+).

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StepChange Debt Charity
StepChange Debt Charity

We provide free, impartial debt advice and solutions to anyone struggling with debt problems in the UK.