Monday 24 October 2016

Ten ways to halt the runaway school bills

Keeping up with the Joneses could cost you thousands over the school year, writes Louise McBride

Published 28/08/2016 | 02:30

Parents are facing bills running into the thousands to see their child through the school year - even after kitting them out for their first day back at school this week
Parents are facing bills running into the thousands to see their child through the school year - even after kitting them out for their first day back at school this week

Parents are facing bills running into the thousands to see their child through the school year - even after kitting them out for their first day back at school this week.

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The cost of school books and uniforms could be a fraction of the expenses which crop up during the year - if you're not careful. Here's our ten-point guide to saving thousands over the school year.

1 Join the scouts instead of horse-riding school

The bill for after-school activities for the year could easily run into the thousands, particularly if you've more than one child or your child is involved in a few activities. You could pay around €25 a pop for a piano or guitar lesson for example, which would add up to more than €900 over the school year (assuming the school year is 38 weeks and your child has one lesson a week). A child's horse-riding lesson could set you back as much as €38 an hour, which could add up to more than €1,400 over the school year.

Dancing lessons, such as ballet or Irish dancing, can work out cheaper, with some teachers charging around €300 for such classes over the course of the school year. It could cost only €50 for your child to join your local GAA club for the year or €90 for two children, depending on the club. It might cost around €120 to get your child signed up to the beaver scouts (which is for children aged between six and eight) for a year - or €200 for two children. So you could save a grand a year by opting for the GAA or scouts instead of a pricier activity.

Understand exactly what you're getting into when you sign up to an activity. Even if lessons seem cheaper than others, you might be hit with additional costs as the year goes on. It could cost around €100 for your child to attend their first feis, for example, once you take into account the cost of pomps (typically, between €30 and €50), participation in the feis itself (feis registration might be €5 and it could cost €10 or more to compete in three dances) and a standard black dress. Get carried away with the costume and it will cost even more. You could spend several hundred euro on an Irish dancing dress - or even thousands.

2 Offer a smart phone instead of the school tour

Should your child be going into transition year, you might have to dish out more than €1,000 for a school tour this year, as schools often arrange foreign trips in transition year.

"In some schools, these tours take the form of a skiing trip, while in others, they are often a visit to a European capital," says Annemarie Wade, director of "I know of one school offering a transition-year skiing trip next year at €1,200 all-inclusive."

It can be hard to avoid the cost of a foreign school tour, particularly if most of the other children in your child's class are going. Saving up for the prospect of such an expense in advance of transition year is one way of preparing for it.

"If you know you can't afford the trip, prepare your child in advance and explain to them that they won't be able to go," says Wade. "Take the sting out of it by saying they can get something else instead, such as a smart phone for around €200, for example."

3 Shop around for after-school care

Working parents face bills of as much as €835 a month for after-school care. Shopping around can save you a few grand a year as some creches charge around €500 or €600 a month for after-school care. Giraffe, for example, charges €114 per week for after-school care - or €137 weekly if the child requires breakfast club and transport to and from school. So after-school care at Giraffe costs between €4,332 and €5,206 over the school year (assuming school runs for 38 weeks).

Cocoon typically charges €563 a month for 10 months of after-school care - so that will cost you €5,630. Cocoon also offers an option where it provides full-time care over mid-term breaks and the summer months, together with the after-school care during school time. This option costs €713 a month for 12 months. Most of Park Academy's childcare centres charge €835 a month for after-school care. This fee includes full-day camps for children during all of the school holidays, including summer.

Only commit to paid childcare during the summer holidays if you really need it. Taking the bulk of your annual leave over the summer and getting some help from the grandparents could save you €1,000 or more.

4 Host the birthday party at home

The average amount spent on a birthday party for a child under the age of 12 is €366, according to recent research by The bill could run to €500 or more if you hire a party planner or entertainment.

To keep costs down, restrict the invites to the boys or girls in your child's class (depending on the sex of your child), host the party at home, make your own food and don't succumb to the pressure to compete with other parents on the so-called 'wow' factor.

5 Get your kid to take the school bus

Your fuel bill for school runs over the year could easily run to €1,000 or more - particularly if you drive a gas guzzler and live a good distance from your local school. A ticket on a school bus under Bus Eireann's School Transport scheme might only cost you €100 for one child for the year, depending on the age of your child. So this scheme could save you several hundred euro or more in fuel a year. It is too late to apply for a ticket for the coming school year, though, so don't miss out next year should you qualify for the scheme.

6 Get a Leap card

Should you have good public transport links in your area, get your child to buy a Leap card. A Leap fare could be almost 25pc cheaper than a cash fare during school hours.

7 Rein in on the big-ticket events

Parents are now typically spending more than €800 on First Holy Communion and more than €1,000 on a child's debs. Don't feel the need to spend that kind of money. Shopping for clothes for those occasions in the sales or in second-hand shops and hosting a small gathering at home are some ways to stop these events becoming too expensive.

8 Budget for sports events or avoid them

"School sports events, such as inter-school GAA or school rugby competitions, can cost money, particularly if a school is doing well," says Paul Mooney, president of the National Parents Council Post Primary. "It can cost between €20 and €50 for the day for your child. At the start of the school year, try to find out the extra costs you will have to pay for throughout the year, so you can budget for them."

There is little you can do to reduce the cost of such trips apart from giving your child a packed lunch or keeping your child off for the day (though your school will disapprove).

9 Resist fads

The most expensive school-time fad of recent years is the collection of branded trading cards, according to Laura Erskine, mum-in-residence with

"For boys, the trading of football and Pokemon-themed collector cards can quickly eat into weekly pocket money," says Erskine.

"Young girls often love collecting the Beanie Boo keyrings and hanging a selection off their schoolbag. Children can place huge pressure on parents to finance new additions to their collection."

You'll pay around €5 for a 10-pack of Pokemon trading cards or a Beanie Boo keyring. Although not a huge amount of money once off, these can add up over the year.

"At secondary school, there is pressure to have a cool branded bag in the right size and these can be expensive," says Wade. "Another fad might be the increase in year group branded sweatshirts, such as 'Class of 2016'. These are most common in sixth class in primary school, transition year and sixth year in secondary. The usual cost is around €25 to €30."

10 Get grinds from a local teacher

Should your child be sitting their Junior or Leaving Cert next summer, you might be considering grinds. It can cost almost €1,000 for Leaving Cert grinds or around €900 for Junior Cert grinds, assuming you pay upfront and your child gets one class of grinds a week. Check if a local teacher provides grinds instead; you might get one-to-one hourly sessions for €20 or €30 an hour, which would save you a few hundred euro over a grinds school.

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