Sinead Ryan: Keeping sky-high Communion costs under control is not that hard
It won't be long until we start seeing mini brides and grooms walking to church.
First Holy Communion season is on us, and while many parents can't wait to tog their children out and have a great big party, others dread the expense and the expectations that surround the day.
Well-meaning suggestions by schools to wear uniforms or albs (plain white vestments) are often greeted with horror by parents, who are usually the main drivers of the expense of the day.
The church's position is that while Communion ceremonies are "landmark days" and should be memorable, "the pressure of trying to make these sacramental days special for the child can cause parents a lot of stress".
Bishops and priests are concerned about the cost issue facing parents for First Holy Communion and confirmation, and have discussed the matter in parishes.
If the emphasis for sacramental preparation is placed on commercially related concerns, rather than on the spiritual significance of the sacrament, it's not a good preparation for Catholic children.
The responsibility relating to celebrations rests with parents and ought to be "balanced and appropriate for the occasion". They suggest "modest parish-based initiatives".
It's not a bad idea, but I dare say it will be ignored in favour of bouncing castles and marquees for many. However, if it's the turn in your family this year, there are loads of options when it comes to outfits.
Dunnes Stores has really made its mark with Paul Costelloe's gorgeous dresses, which range from €55 to €100. There are sweet cardigans at €20, suits for boys for €75 and veils for €20.
Debenhams has its John Rocha RJR range from €110 to €120, with shoes from €25, faux shrugs for €25 and lots of boys options.
May's Occasions in Dun Laoghaire has dresses from €100 and accessories online. There are lots of local shops and boutiques with great clothing ranges too.
Your little girl would look just as charming in a pre-loved dress, of course, so asking family or friends for a loan of one is a great idea. For the cost of dry cleaning and a little gift, she'll look lovely without breaking the bank.
Second-hand shops have dresses too, many worn only once. My local Vincent's shop has them starting at a tenner, so do consider those options if you're struggling financially. My own daughter wore second-hand, and we passed it along to a charity shop after. Nobody knew the difference, and who cares anyway? While boys may get a couple of "wears" out of their outfit, the girls won't.
For the rest of the day, it's important to start planning now.
l Budget out all you will need: clothes (for the family), catering and entertainment.
l Work out what you can afford to put aside from this week and start saving.
l Can you share celebrations with another family? Guests can go between houses and it will cut costs.
l Bulk-buy at a wholesalers for paper plates, cups, containers, banners and balloons.
l Ask a friend to do hairdressing; if a child is wearing a veil, the simplest of styles is all that's needed. Clear nail polish will make her feel special, without looking tacky - and no make-up, please.
l If you're eating out, consider immediate family only. You can ask others to drop by the house later on and provide snacks and drinks.
Finally, your eight-year-old could come into a significant amount of money. Research by EBS has shown that the average Communion gift is €37, with the overall haul coming in north of €340.
That's a lot of cash, and while they'll want to spend some immediately (it's good to plan what they want to buy, rather than letting them run riot in Smyths Toys), it's a great opportunity to discuss savings too.
Banks work on the principle that if you get them young you have them for life, so they typically offer their best interest rate to children, along with gimmicks and incentives to entice them. The table shows what's available, but even opening a simple post office account is a great start.
Children should learn about different types of savings: something for this year, like pocket money for a holiday or friends' birthday gifts, and another savings goal which is longer-term - a new bike, perhaps.
Letting them get started with a piggy bank and an account is a brilliant way of showing them how money works and how delayed gratification and budgeting helps.
Mind you, there are lots of adults who could learn the same lessons!