With the possibility of lockdowns easing soon, schools will hopefully reopen and children will get back to some normality before long. For many parents it is still a worry – and the expense is top of that worry list. But why worry, writes John Lowe of MoneyDoctors.ie.

There are many recent surveys including Barnardos' latest, highlighting the ever-increasing back to school costs in both national and secondary school levels. While for those with little income there is some financial support, virtually all parents still find it tough, especially if they have not budgeted for it.

Here are six tips that as parents you might find helpful in these challenging times…

1. Budget
Perhaps you have last year's back to school budget plan. This could be useful to gauge how much more you may need for this year. You may have even had an amount put by each month in a regular saver account for this very purpose.

The best regular saver – saving between €100 and €1,000 each month for an agreed 12 months, with one withdrawal allowed per annum – is Ulster Bank’s 0.85%. if you have not, now may be a time to start thinking of next year. The money has to come from somewhere.

2. Write a list
Check what you have and write then what you need – see what can still be used or passed down to another child if you have one. You could, of course, sell last year’s books before you buy the new ones.

3. The uniform
You may be forced to buy from the school’s supplier. Check to see if it is possible to go outside these suppliers – you may for instance be allowed to apply a crest on your externally bought school clothes. If you feel the school supplier is too expensive, don’t be afraid to tell the Board of Management.

Here are a few more useful ideas:

  • Ask your school or other parents to see if there is a second-hand uniform sale planned. Some websites or local groups on social media sites also sell second-hand uniforms.
  • Keep an eye out for special promotions in shops on school uniforms, such as 3 for 2 offers on items such as shirts and polo shirts. Buy two packs to use straightaway and a pack in a larger size for later when your child has grown.
  • Try to shop around for generic items of clothing like grey skirts or trousers. The larger chain stores can be good for these but remember that stocks don't last when demand is high so it’s a good idea to buy early rather than waiting until just before the start of the new school year.
  • Some chain stores discount uniforms at the end of September or October, so you could buy a few pieces for your child for the following year in a larger size.
  • 2nd hand uniform clothes shops or even certain charity shops should not be dismissed either – apart from helping out the charity, they really do have some great bargains.

4. Check out second-hand books
You can make big savings by buying second-hand schoolbooks as there are schoolbook websites (e.g. www.schoolbooks.ie and www.schoolbooksireland.ie to name but two) selling second-hand books who also allow you to sell your books through their websites.

If you are buying a second-hand schoolbook make sure to check first if your school needs you to get a specific edition or if they have a book-lending scheme. When buying books online, check if the retailer is also offering free book covering as this will save you time and money.

5. Label everything and go for quality
Items of clothing continually are lost or stolen so label everything – the more it stands out on your child’s tracksuit or jumper, the easier it is to identify. Buying cheap also does not necessarily work out that way in the long run. If it means the schoolbag lasts the full year rather than six months, it may be better to buy the more expensive bag.

6. Review school lunches
Instead of buying premade lunches or giving your child money to buy lunch, prepare it at home plus tap water in that empty water bottle.

For more information click on John Lowe's profile above or on his website.