Friday 18 August 2017

How to save €3,000 on runaway school bills

Back-to-school bills don't stop once your child runs through the school gates

Back-to-school bills don't stop once your child runs through the school gates
Back-to-school bills don't stop once your child runs through the school gates
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

Parents can save more than €3,000 on the costs that crop up over the school year - by being clever and using any Government-backed schemes which are available to them.

As the bills that arise throughout the school year (on top of the uniform and books) can easily run into the thousands, it pays to cut costs where you can.

"In our recent research, mums cited that the almost weekly money requests for a myriad of small things like charity collections, photocopying, art materials and school events can all add up," said Laura Haugh, mum-in-residence with MummyPages.ie. "In addition, our mums said that the hidden expenses of colour ink cartridges for printing school projects at home, the replacement of lost PE gear and extra grinds in secondary school can really put a strain on the finances."

With this in mind, here's our 10-point guide to save you more than €3,000 over the school year.

Get the school bus: Save up to €1,400

Bus Eireann's School Transport Scheme could save you more than €1,000 in diesel over the school year. Let's say you live in the sticks and your nearest primary school is a 5km drive away. You drive a Land Rover Range Rover Evoque.

As most of your driving is on country roads, you burn through 62.8 litres of diesel per 100km. At that rate, school runs could easily cost you about €1,500 in diesel a year - assuming your child goes to primary school. A ticket on a school bus, however, would only cost you €100 for one child for the year - saving you €1,400 in fuel.

For your child to be eligible for a seat under the School Transport Scheme, you must live more than 3.2km from your nearest national primary school - or more than 4.8km from your nearest secondary school. For primary school children, a bus ticket for the school year costs €100 per child under the scheme - up to a maximum of €220 for families with primary children only. For secondary school students, a bus ticket costs €350 per child per year - up to a maximum of €650 for a family.

You can find more information about the scheme by contacting Bus Eireann.

Even if you are eligible for the scheme, there may not be a service in your area. You may however be eligible for the Department of Education and Skills Remote Area Grant - a contribution towards private transport arrangements.

Get a Leap card: Save up to €384

Those whose children don't qualify for the School Transport Scheme can knock as much as a third off their child's school bus fares by getting them to pay with a Leap Card instead of in cash.

The Child Leap Card can be used on all Dublin Bus, Luas, DART and commuter rail services in Dublin's 'short hop zone'. It can also be used on Bus Eireann city services in Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Waterford cities, on Bus Eireann buses in Dublin and surrounding counties, and on a number of privately-owned buses, such as Wexford Bus and Swords Express.

A child travelling to a Wexford school on the Wexford Bus could pay €30 a week in bus fare if they pay for return tickets in cash (depending on the route). However, the weekly Leap fare comes to €19.50 - about a third less. That would save you €384 over the school year if your child is in primary school; €351 if in secondary school.

Leap school fares are about a fifth cheaper than cash fares. A child fare on Dublin Bus is 95c during school hours if paying in cash - but 75c if paying with a Leap Card. A child going to primary school in Dublin could therefore pay €348 in bus fares over the school year if they pay in cash - but €275 if they use a Leap Card.

Get free exam papers: Save €40

School administrations often ask parents to refrain from buying past exam paper booklets until the autumn - when the updated booklets are available in the shops with the 2015 exam papers included.

"Instead, consider buying second-hand copies of the booklets and then downloading a free copy of the 2015 exam and marking scheme from the website, www.examinations.ie," says Annemarie Wade, director of www.schooldays.ie.

"Second-hand sets can cost as little as €2, with many given away for free. New versions of the papers may cost around €5."

This means you could save €40 on exam papers this year - assuming your child is sitting either the Junior or Leaving Cert and is taking eight subjects.

You can buy or get second-hand exam papers for free on schooldays.ie.

Give your phone upgrade to your child: Save up to €600

Most mobile phone operators offer bill-pay customers a free upgrade at the end of their contract.

Giving your child your free upgrade and holding onto your old phone yourself could save you between €400 and €600 on a handset - if your child is demanding a fancy phone and you're giving in.

You'll need to get a new SIM card for the upgrade - and you may have to unlock the phone if your child is using a different mobile phone network to you. Get a pay-as-you-go SIM to control call costs.

Get last year's tablet: Save €100

With more secondary schools ditching textbooks in favour of the tablet, many parents are facing bills of between €400 and €600.

One way to chop costs is to buy last year's model - or older. Apple's iPad Air, for example, was launched in late 2013. It will cost you €409 to buy a 16GB model of the iPad Air - €100 less than you'll pay for the latest iPad model, the iPad Air 2. (The iPad Air 3 is expected to be launched in October 2015.) "Any school that introduces iPads or other tablets should discuss the move thoroughly with parents," said Don Myers, president of the National Parents Council Post Primary.

Get tablet accessories on eBay: Save €70

You could buy tablet accessories on eBay for a fraction of the price in an Apple store.

For example, last week an iPad Air 2 Smart Case was for sale on eBay for about €24 (plus postage) - €56 less than you would pay for it new through the Apple store. You'll save even more if you're flexible on the type of case you buy and don't insist on an Apple one. Some generic cases are priced at €10 or less on eBay. Watch out for postage costs on eBay however.

Sign your child up to GAA: Save €200-plus

After-school activities can cost a bomb - so be selective. Twelve weeks of Irish dancing classes could cost about €90 - but three months' karate lessons could be €150 or more. Ten weeks of ballet classes could cost about €75.

Be sure to take the cost of the uniform into account. A karate uniform could set you back €25; a leotard and ballet tights, €30. Musical lessons such as piano, violin or guitar, can be pricey. Eight weeks of children's swimming lessons could set you back about €100, depending on the venue.

Get your kids to join your local GAA club as this usually works out a lot cheaper than other after-school activities. It could cost a young child €40 to join their local GAA club for the year - but the cost could be lower or higher, depending on the club.

Register for the free GP scheme: Save €165

Once the winter hits, the bugs and viruses will start flying around the school. Register your child for the free under-sixes GP scheme, if they have not yet turned six. This could save you €165 over the school year - assuming your child needs three visits to the doctor a year.

Parents who don't have children under the age of six can chop the cost of GP visits by a fifth by claiming tax relief on medical expenses.

Opt out of field trips: Save €60

Field trips can include anything from a trip to the Young Scientists exhibition to an industrial one.

"It could cost between €50 and €60 for a field trip," said Mr Myers. "Although some schools make these trips optional, parents don't like to have their children left out so they come under pressure to pay for them."

As there is usually a set fee for a pupil to attend a field trip, there is little you can do to reduce the cost apart from giving your child a packed lunch - or keeping your child off for the day (though your school will disapprove).

Keep the birthday party at home: Save €200

Parents with children starting school this year are likely to encounter their child's most expensive birthday party yet. The bill could easily run over €300 if you invite the entire class - and have a play centre as the venue.

Keep the bill below €100 by inviting only the girls or boys in the class (and so, half the guests) - and hosting the party at home (even if your house is unrecognisable by the time everyone leaves).

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