Children sitting at school desks at back to school time

Back-to-school is an expensive time, so how can you cut costs?

Sending a child to school or college can cost thousands.

A recent survey from Zurich Life estimates that the cost of sending a child to primary school in Ireland is €766 per year, while secondary school costs €1,629.

Meanwhile, the same study says the basic cost of sending a student to college is a whopping €4,340 per year - and that’s before you throw in the cost of rent if they’re living out of home.

And a new report from Barnardos says the impact of school costs means 45% of parents have to forego other bills or cut back on daily expenses - so how can you manage the costs of back-to-school without going without the household essentials?

What are the costs involved in sending children to school?

There are a lot of things that are factored into these costs, such as: uniforms; books; shoes; school trips; after-school activities; lunches; and transport.

How can I save on back-to-school costs?

Some of the costs are unavoidable, but it’s possible you could make savings. Here are some things that could help:

  • Shop around for good deals on shoes and school supplies - many stores will have back-to-school deals over the next while, and buying the likes of stationery in bulk could work out cheaper in the long-run;
  • Buy second-hand books where possible - check with the school to see if they organise a book sale before school starts;
  • Check if the school will allow generic uniforms - this can be significantly cheaper than crested or branded ones, and you can sew on a crest if needed;
  • Make packed lunches - this will also be a lot cheaper than giving your child money to buy their lunch in a school canteen, and you can be certain they’re getting the right kind of food, too; and
  • Buy a reusable water bottle - this can then be refilled and included with the packed lunch, and you can avoid paying for expensive soft drinks every day.

What else can I do to cover these back-to-school costs?

Although some parents say they forego other household bills to pay for back-to-school costs, there are ways to cut back on household essentials without resorting to this.

  1. Firstly, draw up a budget - be it weekly or monthly - and stick to it. Every money-saving list starts with this, because getting a sense of your income versus your expenses is a really important first step on the road to taking control of your spending.
  2. Then, take some energy saving measures around the home, such as fitting energy-efficient bulbs, turning down your thermostat by 1 degree, and closing off any draughts.
  3. Next, if you haven’t switched your energy supplier in the last year, compare energy deals and switch to a cheaper supplier. The vast majority of energy users in Ireland are on standard tariffs, and the difference between these and the cheapest deals on the market is up to €359 - so that’s a good chunk back in your pocket right away. Many energy suppliers are now offering cashback or credits as part of certain plans, too, which could cover some bills at back-to-school time.
  4. Have a think about your TV package - if you mainly stream online, or you only watch a certain few channels, think about whether you could cancel your TV package, or downgrade to a more basic deal. It could save you hundreds of Euro over the course of the year. You can review tv and broadband deals to see what your options are.
  5. You could also review your grocery spend. Lots of us are in a situation where we buy the same groceries each time we go to the supermarket. Take a month or so to review your habits when it comes to the food you buy and use, and make appropriate changes to your grocery shopping using this information - you should save.

Are there any allowances to help me?

If you are receiving certain social welfare payments or taking part in training, employment or adult education schemes you may be eligible for the Back-to-School Clothing and Footwear allowance.

For the 2017 school year, this benefit is €125 for children aged 4-11 on or before 30 September, and €250 for those aged 12-22 (once they are in full-time education) - so this could be a big help.