Stock up now on next term's supplies and avoid the last-minute rush

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It might seem like school has only just broken up for the summer, but those six weeks can pass very quickly if you're a parent. September is just around the corner and shop assistants at department stores across the country are already busying themselves with their back-to-school displays.

Some parents might be filled with dread at the thought of equipping their children for the new school term, and there's no denying that it can be a stressful experience. The best advice is to start buying things as early as possible to avoid the September rush: most of the larger stores have started selling their back-to-school items sooner than ever before, so get out there while the sun's still out and take advantage of those early offers.

One of the first things your rapidly growing child is likely to need is a new school uniform. The good news is the number of shops selling these garments has never been greater, and the prices have never been more competitive.

However, according to Nick Buckland, joint managing director of Price & Buckland, being spoilt for choice can sometimes be a bad thing. He says parents shouldn't be put off by the price tags of higher-quality clothes, since they might offer them the best long-term value for money.

"Durability is all-important when it comes to these garments," he says. "School uniforms usually get hammered to death and have to survive a lot of wear and tear, so cheap and cheerful isn't always the best option."

If the clothes you bought in the summer from a big department store do fall apart by Christmas, Buckland warns, you might have a hard time replacing them. Uniforms are taken off the shelves fairly quickly after the September rush and are not usually replaced until the following year. So while stores such as BHS or Marks & Spencer might be fine for stocking up on socks, shirts and blouses, it might be worth buying that crucial burgundy sweater from a specialist instead.

Some parents often buy their children's garments in the size above, to allow for growth spurts. This is usually fine, but it's worth knowing that VAT – from which most children's clothes are exempt – will take effect when you get to the larger sizes, and thus might be considerably more expensive.

Stationery is another big consideration. Every year, your child will undoubtedly require a sizeable stack of the latest pens, pencils and maths instruments – all to be stored in a suitably funky pencil case, of course. Before giving in to their every whim though, have a hunt around the house and see what remains from last year: there's no point buying a whole new maths set if all they need is a protractor.

Well-known stores such as WHSmith or Ryman will stock all the stationery you'll need but, if you want to add the personal touch, have a look at the website, which offers something a bit different. Inscribing your child's name on their pens and pencils means they are less likely to get lost, and younger children might be more inclined to pick up a pen if they see their name proudly printed on its side.

One item that doesn't usually make it on to the average parent's back-to-school shopping list is a laptop. But they have dropped in price to such an extent that some mums and dads might consider them a worthy investment. Computers have already become an essential teaching aid in modern classrooms, and it might not be long before students with personal laptops are a common sight in schools.

"It's mainly about extending the learning process so it can take place outside the school gates," says Andrew Roland, product manager for the RM miniBook, a basic but powerful laptop aimed at the schools market and available for less than £200. "Most schoolchildren are digital natives, and even if they have their own PC at home, they really need to have their own devices too. These days, being able to type quickly is almost as important as being able to write with a pen and paper."