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Cents & sensibilty: School costs

>BOOKS Ireland is one of the few EU countries that don't provide free schoolbooks. Compounding the issue are the hefty price tags and the ever-changing editions, which make it difficult to pass down textbooks from child to child.

If buying from a high street bookshop, always ask the assistant to check for second-hand editions first. Otherwise, go online to find more competitive prices and delivery deals. School Books (www.schoolbooks.ie) and School Book Shop (www. schoolbookshop.ie) are currently offering 5pc off all orders. O'Mahony's (www.omahonys.ie) is offering free delivery on orders over €49. School Days (www.schooldays.ie) is offering a 10pc discount voucher for Littlewoods Ireland and a 20pc discount voucher for Firefly (parental control mobile phones) with all orders.

ABC Bookshop (www.abcbookshop.ie) is offering free book covering for customers who sign up at www.abcbookshop.ie/freebookcovering.htm. If you want to buy and sell second-hand books, try online community, Schoolbook Exchange (www.schoolbookexchange.ie). Parents advertising or selling books can also connect for free at School Days (www.schooldays.ie).

>UNIFORMS Where possible, opt for generic uniforms from high street stores, many of which are offering highly competitive deals.

Marks & Spencer is the latest to enter the price war. Prices for a complete uniform start at €8.50, with hard-wearing school shoes priced from €20. At Tesco, V-neck jumpers start at €2.50 and runners from €11.50. Children grow quickly so opt for uniforms in larger sizes. Look also for skirts and trousers with hems that can be let down.

Where specific uniforms have to be bought, ask the school about upcoming second-hand uniform and lost-property sales. For cost-effective woven sew-on labels, try www.wovenlabelsuk.com

>STATIONERY If you have two or more children, always buy stationery in bulk or, better still, order larger consignments with friends and family. Only purchase what's absolutely necessary. Likewise, avoid buying geometry sets or calculators until they are required on your child's maths syllabus. Otherwise, they will more than likely be misplaced by the time your child requires them.

>SPORTS GEAR Search online for discounted sportswear. For instance, second-hand sports gear can be found at cost-effective prices on eBay. On the high street, Lifestyle Sports is currently offering a four-for-the-price-of-three offer on their back to school catalogue and Elverys Sports has reduced the prices of much of its back to school range. Avoid expensive branded sports bags and runners, despite your child's protestations to the contrary.

>LUNCHES FOR LESS Shop bought lunches are by far the most expensive option. Spending a little more time preparing your child's lunch box will save money in the long run.

A flask of sugar-free cordial will cost less than cartons of juice or soft drinks. If your child has access to a microwave, leftovers from last night's dinner can be packed in Tupperware. It's important that your child gets his/her five-a-day. For a convenient and cost-effective option, order each week from Fruitfellas. The Dublin-based mobile greengrocers offer all manner of cost-saving deals and free delivery. Go to www.fruitfellas.ie.