Thursday 8 December 2016

A dozen ways to take the edge off back-to-school expenses

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Published 09/08/2011 | 05:00

IT is another back-to-school season and a chance to either make or break the family budget.

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How much will it all cost and how much can you keep costs down by?

After roughly a two-year hiatus, inflation has returned with a bang. Just about everything seems to be rising -- except take-home pay.

However, for the savvy parent, there are still some opportunities to get the kids back to school through a mix of being organised, frugal and just plain smart with money.

But doing so will take skill, planning and determination. Here are some suggestions on cutting the costs from Frank Conway, director of personal finance website MoneyCoach.ie.

It's the 'B' word. Budgets have come to mean only one thing in the last three years, but a back-to-school budget can be a positive force.

Creating one allows parents to review the overall cost of back-to-school expenses, and manage them accordingly.

Setting a budget for each child should be considered and can be a mix between certain fixed-cost items (books) and those other costs where there may be a little more flexibility (clothing -- unless the school has a uniform).

As part of your budget-setting exercise, have a look over what you spent last year.

Refer to old laser 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. Remember, set that budget and stick to it.

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A few days before you start shopping, carry out a full check of all those items (clothes, books and accessories) you have at home.

Not all of last year's books and clothing will be redundant, but you will never know if you don't check first.

You would be surprised at what you may be able to reuse this year.

It is one of those exercises that can really be a bit of a time-user but in an era where cash is king, you may be surprised at just how much you can cut your spending by. Now, from the inventory, you can build your list, which must always be your line of defence against 'emotional' spending.

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So, you have done the inventory thing but have you ever considered an exchange plan with friends and family?

You may find that while you cannot recycle some of last year's books and clothes yourself, you may find that you have a friend or family member (or relative) that you could exchange with.

It's worth a thought and it could even be a bit of fun.

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This is where having a list comes into play.

By the way, these concepts (planning, making an inventory, budgeting) are not new concepts, it's just that some of us forgot about them during the boom years.

Again, if your list is well planned and you stick to it, remaining within budget should be a relatively easy affair.

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This is a nice little insurance cover for students and covers a lot of medical bills.

It could save you a bundle when it comes to doctor visits and any medicine costs. The cost of an annual student plan can be as little as €20, check with your school if they offer the insurance.

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Use Skype to replace the high cost of phone use for teenagers.

It's a great way to reduce some costs and encourages teens to think about an important expense that parents very often have to cover.

Even if kids need to make calls to non-Skype accounts, they can do so at minimal cost.

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Pay the first €120 a month and the State pays the remainder. This is managed through nominated pharmacies and covers the entire family. Check with your local health office for details.

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Unfortunately, the European Central Bank is on a mission to stamp out inflation and is raising rates, resulting in higher mortgage repayments.

Not much we can do about the ECB. But there is a lot you can do about other costs. Home and contents, car, health and mortgage/life protection costs have become much more competitive.

Check your policy details and use online search engines to look for better value. If you are unsure, talk to an independent financial adviser.

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Some car insurance providers participate in a programme that encourages more public transport use and less private car use. In some cases, discounts of up to 20pc are available where drivers use the "tax-saver" scheme.

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Update your life protection cover details. If you have quit smoking for more than 12 months, policyholders can generate savings of 25pc to 30pc.

On a policy costing €1,200, the savings would be €360. Plus you eliminate the cost of a really bad habit, which could mean savings of more than €3,000 a year (after tax, based on around one pack of cigs a day).

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Why wait until the new school year to look for bargains? Keep looking all year round. By keeping a sharp eye out for value, at least you will be in a better position to budget when the crunch time arrives.

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Back-to-school shopping provides an excellent opportunity to teach your children money-management skills.

Now that money is in real short supply, this is as good a time as any to teach them about money and money management.

In leading by example, you are budgeting and teaching about budgeting at the same time.

Irish Independent Supplement

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