At this stage, you have bought your school-going children their new books for the coming year (or perhaps second–hand as it saves money) plus their new uniform – my, haven't they grown – and you are wondering how are you going to fund the ongoing ancillary costs for the remainder of this year?

With the pandemic easing and classrooms reopening the usual financial worries come to the fore for most parents. Remember if expenditure exceeds income, you have two choices: earn more or cut costs. It may not be possible to earn more, but John Lowe of MoneyDoctors.ie has four simple tips to help you save.

1. Plan
It is really important that you now plan your finances and often. My recommendation is that you should sit down and for a couple of hours every month. Like a road map, you will need to know where you are going and anticipate problems along the way. So write down all the current expenditure for the children (transport costs, lunches, additional books, school trips, sports equipment, extracurricular hobbies, pocket money).

Take a look at every cost – do you really need it or is there a cheaper alternative? Car pooling, for instance. With lunch allowances, some parents give their child up to €10 a day whereby you could easily prepare a packed lunch for under €3 a day or about €1,200 saving every year!

2. Save
If you send your child to fee paying schools, as a general rule of thumb you will need to find €240,000 from the time the child is born to the time they leave 3rd level education to cover everything including education – 3rd level alone costing up to €42,000. You need to plan this – you could start by saving the Child Benefit (currently €140 per month per child) into a Regular Saver account – you can save between €100 and €1,000 for 12 regular months attracting a current best rate of 0.85% (Ulster Bank), and once a lump sum has accrued, invest elsewhere for a greater return on your money if you can find one.

For more sophisticated investments, you will need proper professional and independent advice. Even investing €250 a month from the time your child is 5 until they are aged 18 will yield c. €42,000 at 3% growth a year –the amount required for 3rd level education.

3. Borrow
Some parents not only use their Child Benefit but have to borrow as well for their children’s annual school requirements. Shop around – generally credit unions or An Post Money have the cheapest options – c. 5.9%. Check with your local credit union office as they are all independent but do offer low interest rates especially for education loans. An Post Money are online too.

For credit unions you have to be a member for at least month and normally would have to lodge 2.5% of the amount you are looking for into a Credit Union share account to qualify for a loan. High street banks are next on the list and as they know you will be that much easier to approve. Only borrow for the year – school costs come run every year. Authorised moneylenders should really be avoided – charging up to 200% or more.

4. Protect
Life and disability insurance should be considered and even income protection, in case either or both parents are unable to work financially. Generally a life policy outside of mortgage protection for a specific term to coincide with the end of your child’s education should again be considered. This pays out a lump sum in the event of death and for a couple in their 30s would be relatively cheap. The formula for this cover is 10 times your net annual income less any Death In Service benefits (check with your employer) until completion of your youngest child’s 3rd level education.

I can tell you one thing – childhood passes in the blink of an eye…my youngest (of three) is 25 years of age and it seems like only yesterday I was bringing her to play school for the first time. Enjoy.

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

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ.