Sunday 23 October 2016

A lesson in back-to-school budgeting

Struggling with the cost of the new term? Charlie Weston outlines his top money-saving tips for cash-strapped parents

Published 13/08/2015 | 02:30

IT comes around once a year, but that does not mean that getting children kitted out for school in September and college in the coming weeks is not a budget buster in most households. But there are some ways to keep the costs in check.

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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? 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.

Save on uniforms

Ask your school or other parents to see if there is a second-hand uniform sale planned. Some websites or local groups on social media sites also sell second-hand uniforms, according to the State's Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

It is also worth keeping an eye out for special promotions in shops on school uniforms, such as three-for-two offers on items such as shirts and polo shirts. Buy two packs to use straightaway and a pack in a larger size for later when your child has grown.

Consider generic items

Try to shop around for generic items of clothing like grey skirts or trousers.

The larger chain stores can be good for these, but remember that stocks don't last when demand is high so it's a good idea to buy early rather than waiting until just before the start of the new school year, according to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

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.

Get second-hand books

Consider buying second-hand schoolbooks. Before you do, you'll need to check whether your school specifies a particular edition of a given textbook. Some schoolbook websites also sell second-hand books or allow you to sell your books through their websites, according to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

If you have to buy brand new books, make sure you shop around. You can compare prices in bookshops with online retailers, as well as specialised schoolbook websites. Exchange books with other parents to save money.

When buying books online, check if the retailer is also offering free book covering as this will save you time and money.

Many schools operate book-lending schemes and don't forget that some books, such as popular classics, are also available from libraries, though lending times can be limited. See more at:

Voluntary contributions

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.

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 try, and it could even be a bit of fun.

Packed lunches

Packed lunches prepared at home are not only cheaper than shop-bought lunches - they are often more nutritious.

Lunchbox products targeted at children can contain large amounts of salt and sugar and generally work out more expensive. A little time spent planning your family's weekday lunch menu before you do the shopping can reduce food wastage and save you money.

Bulk-buy food. This can be expensive initially but will last for several days. However, do make sure to check shelf life of what you buy. Buy foods that are in season as they are normally cheaper.


The cost of fuel can really add up if you have to travel in and out to school every day. If you know anyone in your area who has children attending the same school it might be worth suggesting that you share the school run. This will save you time and reduces your carbon footprint. If you live near the school, consider cycling or walking as it's healthier for you and will save you money.

Check if your child is eligible to get the bus to school. It could save you money over the long term and most children enjoy travelling to school with their friends, according to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

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

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 yourschool to see if it offers the programme.

Irish Independent

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