Many parents in the UAE have started back-to-school purchases, looking for deals and preloved items to beat rising prices.
Community WhatsApp groups are being inundated with hand-me-down messages from people posting pictures of old books and even preowned school uniforms for different age groups.
Before the new academic term begins at the end of August, parents are contemplating ways to cut back costs, including uniforms, sports kits, books, and stationery.
Indian expat in Dubai, Sai Talwalkar says, “I just got back from my back-to-school shopping. I have to say that I am feeling peeved by the amount of money that we must spend on buying these low-quality overpriced uniforms every year. Besides, these must be done from a specific uniform centre, where I feel there’s a significant mark-up.”
She adds, “I have two school-going children. I went to buy a complete set for my younger son but ended up buying only the shirt as the whole set was too expensive. The shirt for a six-year-old cost Dh100 and the trouser was another Dh89. For my elder son I just bought two sets of PE uniforms, which cost me Dh89 for each trouser, and Dhs100 for every shirt. So, if one were to buy just two sets of uniforms for two children, it would easily cost a parent over Dh700. Apart from this, we have shoes, books and stationery. As for stationary purchases, I am waiting for one of those online or in-store bulk deals. With each passing year, the back-to-school expenditures seem to be increasing. ”
Last year many parents didn’t have to buy school uniforms as several Indian schools across the emirates continued with online learning for a prolonged period due to the pandemic.
Filipino expat Ben Lebig, whose daughter is in Year 9, in GEMS Cambridge International School, Dubai says, “I just got an email notification from my daughter’s school yesterday. We spend a substantial amount of money every year, around this time, on buying at least a few sets of regular school uniforms and at least a few PE uniforms for her, which I feel is a mandatory requirement given the wear and tear. Stationery and books on an average cost Dh1,000 and uniforms and shoes cost another Dh2,000.”
He adds, “I haven’t made the purchases yet, but I am expecting the prices to have risen this year. Since my daughter got a laptop a few years ago, we are not buying any electronic items or gadgets this year. But yes, if there is a year when you need to buy an iPad or laptop, the expenditure clearly goes up.”
While textbooks are exchanged or sold online at discounted rates, parents say accepting or buying used school uniforms can sometimes become an issue.
Shreya Chakraborty says, “Last year, most parents didn’t have to buy uniforms immediately as due to Covid-19, children did distance learning for some time. Although I have only one son, I always once check with my friends who have older sons in the same school to see if they can pass on their child’s uniform to me in case it’s in good condition. The problem is you cannot take uniforms with marks on it, especially on the shirts, even if it fits your child and is not torn.”
“Since my son is only six, he makes his school shirt dirty very often and for the same reason, I am unable to pass it on to anyone else. Colour marks on the shirts are not uncommon. Therefore, I must buy at least one regular school uniform set and one PE set from the stipulated tailoring centres, which costs around Dh400 in total. Another set, I prefer as a hand-me-down. Children anyway outgrow clothes very fast. So, why spend too much money on ‘any extra’? Shoes, I buy from outlet stores, including any water bottles and tiffin boxes. Dirhams shops have incredible stationery, which is value for money.”
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But for many families, these worries are compounded, as their struggles are even greater.
Pakistani expat in the UAE, Nikhat Sultana who has lived here for two decades and has four children says, “My husband passed away a few years ago. I dread this time of the year when expenditures soar due to back-to-school expenses. Since I still have three school-going children, my sons share the school uniforms. The younger one always uses the hand-me-downs. I buy only one set of uniforms for my daughter every year. Books are again something that they share or look for used books from others.”