an affordable (and stress-free) rentrée

Aide à la rentrée grants (allocation de rentrée scolaire) should be hitting your bank accounts tomorrow (20 August) so it is time to hit the supermarkets for the mad rentrée shopping bonanza.
This is an annual trolley-dash event that children find incredibly exciting – can't wait to get home and pack all those new pencils and exercise books into sparkly new cartables – but leaves parents close to tears as they grapple with lists specifying the exact size of lines, margins and squares and how many pages each different exercise book must contain.
However, the good news is that, despite rumours that school equipment prices were set to rise by up to 25% they are in fact staying pretty stable, according to a study of 5,800 hypermarkets by the independent research group GK. 
In addition, the rentrée grant has gone up 25% this year.
But it is still worth shopping around and both Carrefour and Auchan are offering refund the difference price match guarantees this year.
Here are our tips on keeping your rentrée affordable – and stress free!

Primary school pupils generally don't have to buy their own equipment so if your child is just starting collège, be prepared to be bewildered by the lists you will have received! How much you have to buy varies from school to school and teacher to teacher. Some are perfectly modest in their requirements whereas others take delight in issuing a phenomenally complex set of demands.

But don't worry. Your child will understand a lot of it and there are always plenty of older children and other parents in the stationary aisles at this time of year so if in doubt, ask one of them.
Above all, don't make a wild guess and get it wrong - teachers are amazingly insistent that their must-have lists are followed to the letter. If it says pink paper, don't buy red!

However, teachers are not allowed to insist on a certain brand if a cheaper brand will do the job just as well. One child who started lycée last year was asked to buy a calculator which cost well over 100€ but, after negotiation, the teacher agreed that a different brand, which cost around 30€, would be OK.

Once your children get older, leave them to do their own rentree shopping - they love it, you don't. Lay down strict rules to keep the costs down. For example, they can choose their all-important cartable and agenda so long as they buy own brand (i.e. the cheapest)  pens, pencils, exercise books etc. Then go and sit in the coffee shop and wait to be summoned with your credit card at the end. 

If you have more than one child, teach them to look out together for multipack items. If one child needs 4 packs of a certain size paper and the other 6 of the same, obviously a 10pack is going to work out cheaper between them.

You can also do your rentrée shopping online but with the hypermarkets – and the rentrée is their busiest period of the year after Christmas – in fierce competition you will probably only save time rather than money, as well as denying your children all the fun!

Or you can take your lists into a stationary or office supplies shop and they will sort it out for you. Marginally more expensive, perhaps, but saves a lot of hassle!

As stationary is at its cheapest at this time of year, it is a good idea to stock up on items which are likely to need replacing during the course of the school year, such as glue sticks or looseleaf paper. This also means you will have it on hand when your child announces at 7am one morning that he needs more glue – today! If you don't jump to and provide it; he could end up getting punished.

Finally if you run your own business or work from home, now is obviously the time to stock up on your own stationary needs. You'll probably find the supermarket rentrée aisles a lot cheaper than your usual office suppliers for files, paper, etc. at this time of year.

see also: education grants

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