Surveys show it can cost €350 per primary school pupil a year and €805 a year for secondary students. Here's some tips on how to reduce costs of uniforms, books and lunches

According to Barnardos the average cost for sending a child to junior infants is now €350, rising to €805 for secondary school.

Another survey, published by the Irish League of Credit Unions, puts the costs at €320 for a primary school child and €470 for a secondary school child.

All are agreed that the biggest cost to families is uniforms and school-books.

Tina Leonard gives Today with Pat Kenny listeners some tips:

Uniforms

According to National Consumer Agency research, nine out of ten parents believe they should be allowed to purchase uniforms and school crests separately, rather than buying from a designated shop. The research revealed that 80% of parents of primary school going children who wear a uniform must purchase from a designated shop, increasing to almost 9 in 10 (87%) for those attending secondary school.

For example one mum I spoke to, who has a child starting school in September has to spend €170 on the uniform alone, before she even starts adding in shoes, bags and books.

In fact the NCA has appealed to school boards of management to allow parents to buy uniforms and crests separately.

It is important because for parents who have this choice the savings can be considerable, and the supermarkets are selling at prices the traditional school-wear shops just can’t compete on:

  • A white polo t-shirt in Dunnes Stores costs €3.50, but this is €10 (and more) in Arnotts when a crest is added. (Irish Independent survey 16/8)
     
  • Tesco is selling school jumpers for just €2.50.
     
  • In addition Tesco is selling a uniform kit that includes a coat, a choice of three pack of polo shirts or regular long or short sleeved shirts, plus trousers, a skirt or a pinafore for €17.50.
     
  • If your school insists on buying specific and crested uniform items consider buying second hand: Babybay.ie has a new category for school uniforms in good condition, and in order to make the money to buy you could sell any old uniforms you have (in good condition) on the same site. If you do, Babybay.ie will give you free membership. *No take up yet.
     
  • Check out other classifieds too. For example donedeal.ie has a selection of school uniforms listed and some school-books too.
     
  • Myschooljumper.ie (in Galway) specialise in putting crests and logos onto clothing. You can buy crests only for your generic jumper, or your school can buy uniforms with crests in bulk from the site (jumpers from €10, jackets from €18. If you are buying a crest only it is from €3 and cheapest if you do it in bulk. So if a group of parents (or a whole class or year) can buy generic jumpers for example for €5 each then it would cost €3 to have the crest attached, compared to €20 - €35 for a crested jumper from a traditional supplier.
     
  • If you like your brands, then don’t forget the outlet stores at Kildare Village. All shops there offer approximately 60% off the retails price and you could get Clarks shoes there, or runners from Nike and Reebok or cottons from Petit Bateau. You can buy Cath Kidston accessories there too. For example, a rucksack sells at €11 (normally €15) and a rose pencil case costs €3.50 (normally €5).
     
  • If you get social welfare benefits or employment or training scheme payments and your total household income is below a certain amount you may be eligible for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance. It amounts to €200 for children up to aged 11 or €305 for over 12s and you apply to the Dept of Social Protection.

School-books

  • 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.
     
  • If your school doesn’t have a rental or second hand scheme, buy second hand books at websites such as schooldays.ie and schoolbookexchange.ie. You can also sell old books on schoolbookexchange.ie to make money to buy the new books you need.
     
  • Shop around for the best book prices by checking sites like schoolbooksonline.ie and schoolbookshop.ie.
     
  • Some have offers on: for example both schoolbookshop.ie and joycegalway.ie are offering customers a choice between 10% off books or a book covering service, and If you are a SuperValu Real Rewards member you can get 10pc off books at schoolbooks.ie.
     

It will be interesting to see how the school-books debate develops, especially as up to eight secondary schools are introducing e-books this September in a bid to reduce the cost burden of buying books.
 

For example in St Colman’s College in Claremorris, Co Mayo, parents were able to buy iPads for €657 under a scheme offered by the school and the school also did a deal with the local credit union to make low interest loans available. The e-books themselves cost €200 (compared to €400 for the printed books). 56 out of 62 first year students will be learning this way.

And at St Fintina’s secondary school in Longwood, Co Meath, where they have been testing e-books for three years, parents can rent specially designed student lap-tops for €100 a year, and after five years they own it.

Other tips

It may feel as if you’re going back to school yourself, but the first thing you should do is draw up a back to school budget. Using the National Consumer Agency’s ‘back to school budget planner’ as a template (available at www.itsyourmoney.ie), note how much you need to spend on various categories including uniforms, books, stationery, accessories and transport. Once you know how much you need to spend, compare with how much you actually have and then you can see where you need to save and start getting creative.

Check supermarkets for special offers on lunch box staples and always make a pack-lunch as it is cheaper and you can control what’s going in your child’s mouth. To compare supermarket costs check out fitthebill.ie (free membership).

If you want an eco-friendly start to the school year, purchase.ie has a back to school sale on. An eco stapler that doesn’t use metal staples costs €5.95 (was €9.95) and a safety ‘glow badge’ is €2.95 (was €3.95).

Buy stationery in bulk, as it is cheaper and will last the year. If you can’t afford it yourself, club together with another parent to get the best value bulk buys.