Setting tight budget is right school of thought
Charlie Weston provides top tips in managing the spiralling costs associated with kids' return to the classroom
JUST because back-to-school costs come around every year does not mean it gets any easier for parents.
Whether it is equipping a child who is starting in junior infants, or a secondary school student returning to the classroom, the sheer cost stretches most household budgets.
Here are some tips for keeping the family finances on track and cutting down on some of the expense.
Budgeting has become fashionable again and more and more families use it to control spending.
Creating one allows parents to review the overall cost of back-to-school expenses and manage them accordingly.
Setting a budget per child should be considered as a vital ingredient to successfully managing your money.
In fact, it might be a good idea to share the practice with kids and get them into the budgeting frame of mind.
Successful budgeting can be a mix between certain fixed-cost items, such as books, and those other costs where there may be a little more flexibility, such as clothing - unless the school operates a uniform use code.
As part of your budget-setting exercise, have a look over what you spent last year. Refer to old laser/debit card and credit card statements, even receipts if you still have them.
Of course, each year is different, so as you set your budget you should use a mix of what is actually needed this year while remaining conscious of what you actually spent last year.
If you choose to purchase your books online, many suppliers offer additional savings and benefits such as shopper discounts, free delivery and free book covering.
Also check out used book sites where you can buy most of the major titles which are listed and broken down by class, according to financial consultant Andrew Russell of Dublin-based Squaremile Financial Consultants.
"You can also revisit these sites and sell on any books you have bought in the past," he said.
You should also inquire at your child's school to see if they are running any book sales or rental schemes in advance of the school year.
Parents can save up to 80pc on the full cost of books where these schemes are in place.
You can also help to set up a scheme in your school by downloading the guide at www.education.ie. Do not forget your own local book shops. Nowadays we automatically believe the best deal is online. This is not always the case, said Mr Russell.
MAKE a list
Having one ensures you are less likely to buy on impulse and more likely to buy only what is needed in any given year.
If there are several students in the household, then buying only what is needed and sticking to that list is absolutely vital.
Identify items that can be reused
Why buy new if you already have it in-house? Carry out a full inventory of items that can be reused. This can include clothes, books and accessories.
Not all of last year's books and clothing will be redundant, but you will never know if you don't check what you have stored away.
Mr Russell of Squaremile Financial says that when initially working out what he needed and where to get it for his son who starts school this year, he simply asked friends and family for advice on the back-to-school essentials.
"They were quick to tell us not only what we absolutely needed but what we absolutely didn't," he said.
"Don't be tempted on getting the full array of colour pencils and markers. Keep it to the basics for the initial weeks and then add on a need-only basis."
NCA budget planner
The National Consumer Agency, www.nca.ie, has a top-notch back-to-school section, according to Mr Russell.
There are great resources online. Take time to do some internet research on the various categories such as books, uniforms and stationery. Share your findings and ideas on your social network sites, you will be amazed at how many people will return the favour.
Buy in bulk
If there is one thing you can be sure of it's that you will need to buy pens, pencils, rulers. Here is an area where you can and should bulk buy.
Your child will be in school for about 12 years, they are sure to use many copy books in this time span, so don't be afraid to stock up.
Barter with family and friends
So you have identified those items that you can reuse. But what about your friends and family?
Could they also have items that could be reused and could you set up a small exchange programme?
It is a form of barter that is gaining acceptance in certain parts of the world. Why not put it to work for you and your own financial well-being? It is worth a thought ... and it could even be a bit of fun.
Purchase school insurance
This is a nice little insurance programme for students and covers a lot of medical bills, according to Frank Conway of financial literacy website MoneyWhizz.org.
It could save you a bundle when it comes to doctor visits and any medicinal fees. The cost of an annual student plan can be as little as €20, but check with your school to see if it offers the programme.
Every year there is heated discussions on the varying cost of school uniforms (left) - about how one school is resolute in requiring a specific jersey over its generic counterpart simply because school rules dictate the crest is to be embroidered on, the shade of blue, wine.
If you are in this situation, make sure you encourage your child to change out of their uniform when they come in from school, is the advice of Mr Russell.
Also prevent further wear and tear by putting patches on the elbows, maintaining hem lines etc.
Look to see if you can purchase the uniform second hand and don't forget to reverse this tactic once your own child has outgrown it.
Also just because you must buy the school jumper or blazer from a designated stockist, does not mean the same rule applies to the trousers, skirt or shirt! Many stores offer these at greatly reduced rates and value.
All too often we hear about the pressures parents feel when it comes to voluntary contributions.
Many parents view these contributions as anything but voluntary and have labelled them as levies that they feel obliged to pay.
Funding issues in schools is no secret. However, there are other ways to boost the school's coffers. Suggest setting up a fundraising committee and run events over the school year.