Parents of primary and secondary school students could find themselves out of pocket after the summer. 

Cash-strapped mums and dads will have to spend an average of almost €400 per child when the kids go back to school this September, according to a recent survey by the Irish League of Credit Unions.

A third of parents are expected to get into debt when kitting out their children for the new school year with books and uniforms being the biggest cost. Books are ringing up at around €162 for primary students and €258 for secondary school students, while uniforms are coming to €166 for primary students and €213 euro for secondary students.

While some parents have been able to dip into their savings to cover the spike in costs, over two thirds of those surveyed said that they would have to sacrifice their family holiday or would struggle to pay bills.

One third of parents said that they would have to resort to borrowing money, €360 on average, while almost that same number said they would put off paying a credit card bill. More worryingly, one in six said they would reduce spending on food.

Financial adviser John Lowe, better known as “The Money Doctor” had some words of warning for parents who have to borrow: “Be very careful...Moneylenders should be avoided and also the ‘flexible’ credit card.

"If you must borrow, try a credit union – their rates are cheapest – but repay over the year. You’ll have the same costs next year."

With this in mind, here are our top five tips for avoiding running in to the red this autumn:

1) Start buying now: Pick up one or two items of uniform/books a week, or if the regular trips are too much of an inconvenience, squirrel the money away each week. Then do one shop (either for uniform or books) at the end of July and the other (cheaper, as there are other costs looming – see shoes below) spend mid-August. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it pays to break down the overall costs over a few months, beginning after Easter. Smug, I know, but it’s one to think about for next year.

2) Shoes: Don’t be tempted to buy now in the summer sales as kids’ feet can grow overnight, as you know. Instead, get the kids measured mid-August and see what you/they like and then search online for a better price or buy at a retail outlet where there are bargains galore.

3) Books: Shop online and price compare before you buy – it’s worth the time and saves your feet. Once school is back, ask the parents committee (or join it yourself) to bring in a school books rental scheme and/or book sale/swap at the end of the year, to cut down on expenses going forward. Lowe had this to add: “If you are going to buy, look at Done Deal or National Book Exchange for second hand copies. Eason will cover the books for 75 cent per copy.”

4) Sales: Check with your local uniform supplier when their sales are on. Reassure them that you will be buying from them for at least eight years and they should be generous enough to share that info. Then only buy a set amount of stock now and top up on the rest in their sales. “Don’t be shy visiting the local charity shops for jumpers, tracksuits etc. All the main stores – Marks & Spencers, Dunnes, SuperValu, Tesco, Debenhams - will also have special deals, with some of them available online (which may be cheaper, with free delivery to your nearest store),” added Lowe.

5) Be thrifty: If there is an option to buy the school crest (if not, that’s another one to raise with the uniform supplier and/or parents committee) and sow it on to tops/jumpers yourself. It’s a lot cheaper than buying the pre-made version. Be aware of false economies though – no point spending all that time sowing if the top shrinks after three washes! Break down any items that you have no option but to get in a specified store and get everything else on the high street or online – your feet or fingers may not thank you but your purse will.

Kayla Walsh