Your last-minute lesson on how to cut big back-to-school bills
As the new term begins, costs can run into the thousands but there are some good deals and discounts to help ease the pain, writes Louise McBride
With only a week to go before schools around the country start to reopen after the summer break, many parents are facing bills of almost €2,000 to put one child through school for the year. A new survey by mummypages.ie has found that parents can expect to pay €1,834 to put a child through secondary school. That bill includes the cost of uniform, sports gear and footwear; school books and classroom resources; the voluntary contribution; technology support; school trips; and fundraising. The typical bill for parents of primary school children came to €716.
With bills like this, parents should be careful not to panic buy if they have left it until the last minute to get their children organised for school. Rushed purchases are often the most expensive ones and could push these bills up even higher.
Even at this late stage, it is still possible to make savings on your back-to-school bill. Here's how:
Grab a discount
For those ordering school books online, Eason has a choice of two discounts: a 10pc discount with free delivery or a 12.5pc discount without free delivery (delivery charge is €3.80). These discounts will be available on easonschoolbooks.com until August 31. Neither of these extends to stationery - however, Eason has various half-price offers (including on sets of pencils, pens and pastels) which will run until mid-October.
The online schoolbook store, schoolbooksdirect.ie, offers a year-round 10pc discount on school books and stationery. Its delivery charge is €4.99.
Check that your schoolbooks will be delivered on time before ordering online. With Eason, for example, delivery is typically between three and four working days from the date an order for school books is placed online.
Cover your own books
Should you have a number of schoolgoing children, you could easily face a book-covering bill of more than €20 if you get a store to do it for you - so you'll save a few bob by doing the job yourself. Consider using old wallpaper or any fancy paper bags you have in the house as book covering material. Buying book-covering material in a book store might not save you that much money for your time and effort - a 20m roll of book-covering film could set you back €15. For those who have left it until the last minute, time and hassle can be saved by taking up a store's book covering service.
Expect to pay up to €1 a book for covering. Some retailers, such as Cormicans (cormicans.com), offer free book covering on online orders. Eason and schoolbooksdirect.ie charge 75c a book for book covering. Should you be ordering book covering online through Eason, do so by August 23. Otherwise, you can get your books covered instore. Schoolbooksdirect.ie also recommends ordering book covering by August 23 to ensure you get your school books on time.
Get a German deal
Lidl has been selling 'full' uniforms for primary school children - which include trousers or skirt, a matching sweatshirt, and two polo shirts - for €5. For those buying uniform items separately, Lidl charges €2.49 for trousers or skirt, €3.99 for a cardigan, €1.99 for a sweatshirt, €3.49 for sports trousers, and €6.99 for a pinafore or a pair of school shoes. This is a fraction of the price you can expect to pay in most other stores. You could pay €12 for a pinafore - and €10 for school trousers - in Dunnes Stores, for example.
Aldi will be selling themed lunch bag and bottle sets for €9.99 from August 27. You could pay as much as €20 for such a set elsewhere, depending on the store and bag theme. Some retailers charge between €12 and €15 for a lunch bag alone.
Visit Kildare Village
Many parents head to Clarks for school shoes. However, as you could pay around €50 for a pair and around €40 for runners, this can be expensive.
A trip to Clarks in Kildare Village could easily save you €15 on one pair of school shoes - so savings can be substantial if you have a few children to buy for. You'll typically pay between €30-€34 for school shoes, or €26-€28 for runners, in Clarks in Kildare Village. Don't leave your trip too late though, as stocks may be low by then.
Buy second hand
Buying second hand could halve your school book bill, particularly if your child is in secondary school. Some Junior Cert or Leaving Cert school books can cost more than €30 if bought new.
Don't assume that it is too late now to buy your books second hand. Parents put more than 5,000 second-hand books up for sale on schooldays.ie over the summer, according to AnnMarie Wade, director of the website. "In the same way as many parents leave it late to buy for back-to-school, there will be many parents who put their books up late on the site - so there are always bargains to be found," said Wade. "If buying second hand from another parent, it's a good idea to pick a seller who lives near enough you so that you can collect the books and so save on postage."
Before buying second hand, check if a particular edition of a textbook is required, advised Laura Erskine, mum-in-residence with mummypages.ie. Schooldays.ie also provides a facility which allows parents to sell - or search for - second-hand uniforms. Some charity shops also sell second-hand uniforms. Check in with your local school too. "Some schools run second-hand uniform sales on site a week or two before the school officially re-opens," said Erskine.
Be smart about buying, particularly if your eldest is starting secondary school. "First and fifth year of secondary school are the most expensive years as there is a whole set of new books, uniforms and equipment to be sourced for first years - and in fifth year, a new set of fairly substantial expensive books and often replacement uniforms due to growth spurts," said Wade. "A smart way to shop for these uniforms is not to buy the perfect size. Buy the size that leaves just enough room to accommodate growth spurts. Adjustable hems, waistlines and belts can be your best friend throughout the school year and will prevent you from forking out more money after Christmas on uniforms."
Use the school bus
It may not be too late to get a seat on your local school bus under the State's School Transport Scheme. As rural dwellers could save more than €1,000 on petrol or diesel bills over the school year with this scheme, it would be well worth getting a ticket if you're eligible for one and have a school bus near you. For primary school children, a bus ticket for the school year costs €100 per child under the scheme - up to a maximum of €220 for families with primary children only. For secondary school students, a bus ticket costs €350 per child per year - up to a maximum of €650 for a family. So a bus ticket for the year could cost a fraction of the fuel bill for year-round school runs.
You apply for a ticket through Bus Eireann and although the deadlines for applications and payment have passed, it could still be possible to get a ticket - as long as your local school bus is not already full. "An application can be made at any time but late applicants risk not getting a seat because the bus is full," said a spokeswoman for Bus Eireann. "Seats that remain after eligible children have been accommodated are released to ineligible children in early August and unfortunately in a relatively small number of cases, the school bus may be full and some families will be disappointed each year because they left it too late."
Bus Eireann is advising those who still have to pay for their ticket to do so by tomorrow to ensure that tickets can be posted out to families before the school buses start on August 29. A refund will be issued to those who pay for a ticket now but subsequently find out that a seat isn't available as their local bus is full.
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