Back-to-school money-saving tips

Wednesday 05 December 2012 11.11
Going back to school costs an average of up to €620 per child
Going back to school costs an average of up to €620 per child

Research shows that 80% of parents have financial concerns in relation to back-to-school costs.

The average cost for a primary school child is estimated at €487 and €620 for a secondary school child, according to the National Consumer Agency.

Tina Leonard has some last-minute back-to-school saving tips for Today with Pat Kenny.

The first thing to do before spending is to check if you are eligble for any allowances. If you are on a training course yourself, you may be eligible, so it is not just those on social welfare.

There is help for clothing, footwear and books and I have included all the relevant links in the sections below.

1. Draw up a budget

A quarter of parents do not budget for their child going back to school and half encountered an unforeseen cost, such as payments for school materials or school donations, according to a survey by the National Consumer Agency.

So, just as you may budget for household expenses, it is also really helpful to know how much you will spend in total on school costs.

When you have a budget and stick to it you can plan your cash flow and you tend to spend less, as you have your eye on total costs. Do not buy sundries here and there; create a back-to-school budget.

Here is an excellent planning guide created by the National Consumer Agency, including everything from school uniform to books and PE.

At this stage most people will already have made most of their back-to-school purchases, but it is still worth your while to fill in what you have already spent, then add the expenses that are still to come so that you know what your overall spend will be.

For example, you will still have to plan and budget for voluntary contributions, payments for extra curricular activities, transport and so on.

Remember to factor in those annual school trips, some of which can be very costly, especially if you have more than one child in secondary school.

This approach will also let you know if you will need to spread the cost by postponing some expenditure if possible, so that you can manage your own cash flow better. It will make clear what you need to budget or save for, and what you may have to ditch.

One idea is to ditch the ‘voluntary contribution’ if you can not afford it. As most parents feel this is a must, you could offer your time instead (remember your time has a real value).

Discuss this with the school and see if you can help out on school activities for example or whether you could supervise at music or art classes.

2. Uniforms and crests – how to save

Check if you are eligible for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance.

It is worth €150 for children up to the age of 11 and €250 from age 12. Some people will automatically get this and will have received a letter in June. If not you can still apply until the end of September.

This is means tested so find out from your local Citizens Information Centre of Social or Social Welfare office online what the eligibility criteria is first.

You may be eligible if you are getting a welfare payment, if you are taking part in a training course or attending a FAS course.

It is cheaper to buy generic uniforms and add a crest yourself if necessary.

Although some schools require parents to buy from designated shops, there should be no embarrassment in phoning the school to express interest in shopping around yourself.

Remember, everyone is suffering from the recession and schools should be more understanding about personal finances than they have been in the past.

If not, get in touch with me at money@rte.ie

So supermarket shirts and trousers are the cheapest option:

  • A pack of polo shirts from Dunnes or Tesco costs just €3.50.
  • Jumpers start at €8 and trousers at Tesco cost just €5.
  • Jumpers at Marks & Spencer jumpers start at just €5 rising to €20.
  • Blazers cost between €25 and €45.
  • Aldi has been selling a whole school uniform for €5 (trousers or skirt €2, plain polo shirt €1.25 for 2 pack, sweater €1.75).

There are plenty of businesses from whom you can buy a crest. Many schools arrange this also, where crests are around €3. Sew it on yourself of get someone to do it for you, There are also plenty of businesses that do this, so ask your school.

Check for second-hand uniforms in charity shops and websites such as donedeal.ie; ask your school if they run second-hand uniform sale day and if they do not, start to organise one.

Also, remembering your budget planner, bear in mind that if you are buying two or three sets of uniform for the one child, you could spread that expense through the year, although bear in mind that there may not be special offers (i.e. three for two) later on.

Also, if you need to get a crested jumper, you can still mix and match with supermarket trousers or skirt for example, and for your second or third set of clothes, remember to get a bigger size.

3. Books

We all know that it is difficult to hand down or pass on books given they and their associated workbooks change so often. This has still not been fully resolved, even though last year there was a commitment to limit the number of new editions being published.

Publishers also said they would work more closely with schools to offer book rental schemes and to make discount vouchers available to charities to help families with the cost of school books.

If you still have books to buy try to source second-hand books either in-store or online, remembering to try and sell yours to make some extra cash.

Try schooldays.ie and schoolbookexchange.ie, as well as Amazon and eBay.

If your family is on a low income you can apply directly to the principal of your child’s school for assistance under the School Books Grant Scheme, which is funded by the Dept of Education. The principal will decide which students are most in need.

But in the future the key to saving money may be to be part of book rental or share schemes. If your child’s school does not have a book rental scheme, why doesn’t it? Could it be because it requires someone to organise it? If so, see if you, other parents and teachers can get this going.

In primary school, many of the books tend to be workbooks, but in any case why not attend a PTA meeting and find out what plans there are in relation to the provision of books, use of tablets and internet resources so that you can know (and get involved) in what is coming down line. That way you can plan and you can be sure that your child’s school is taking the best and most cost-effective approach.

4. Lunch

As with your own work lunches this will really add up if you are giving your child or children money to buy lunches every day. Instead, plan in advance and make school lunches for your child.

Know what’s needed: In order to avoid potential food waste. Ask the teacher how long the child will have to eat. Small children might only have ten minutes and then go outside, but want to bring some food with them. So what can you put in the lunch box that fits the remit?

Go with the deals: Check supermarkets for special offers on lunch box staples and base your purchases around these. So if sliced ham is on offer this week, that is what you should buy.

Use coupons: Do not be shy about using coupons to get money off your branded groceries. In addition to any that come with a loyalty club membership, you can go online to bubblegum.ie or pigsback.com and simply print off grocery money-off coupons.

Get inspiration: If you browse online there are a host of websites giving school lunch ideas, so you do not have to stick to jam sandwiches or come up with the inspiration on your own.

5. Transport

The bad news is that the price of motor fuel is rising – a tank for some will already have hit more than €100.

If you are in the habit of dropping your child to and collecting them from school by car, you might want to think again. This is an ongoing cost that should be included in your budget planner but there are ways of saving:

Don’t pile them into the car. While it is still bright, walk with them or cycle with them to school, that is until they are old enough to go alone.

See if there is a school organised 'walk bus' or ‘cycle bus’. If not see if you can start one. This is usually shared by parents who pick up four, five or more children as they walk to school.

Depending on where you live there might be a school bus system or your child may be able to get public transport to school. If so remember to budget this also as an ongoing cost.

For public transport, make sure to get the cheaper pre-purchased multi tickets, whether a monthly or six-monthly ticket or a Leap card for example.

Check for a school car-pool programme and once the bad weather and dark mornings come around, utilise that instead of using your petrol or diesel every day. Again, if your school does not have one, see if you can get one started.

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