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8 Ways to Cut Costs on the Back to School Shopping List

Education 6 min read

15 Jul 2019

There’s little doubt that the majority of parents out there need a little help with saving money on back to school supplies. Increasing numbers of parents say they are struggling financially at back to school time. Our annual research into back to school costs revealed that well over a third are getting into debt trying to pay for the back to school shopping list.*

Half of parents said meeting costs was their biggest back-to-school related worry. Three quarters approx.. said getting the kids ready for back to school was a financial burden.

So, we’ve compiled 8 top ways to help reduce that bill at the end of the back to school shopping list. You can also read this blog for more on back to school money saving tips.

Back to School Savings Sewn Up

You might not be the most popular with the older kids for this one. Let’s face it though, if it’s going to save money at back to school time, it’s worth the protests. Small sewing kits are available in most convenience stores for a relatively low price. Bag yourself one and prepare to get handy with the needlework. Kids will frequently rip hems on school trousers, skirts and jumpers. Not to mention ripping holes in their P.E. gear. You can’t replace gear every time it rips, and you might be planning to hang on to that jumper for a brother or sister. A little TLC with the needle and thread could go a long way. For bigger tears, consider buying the same colour patches. Sewing or ironing this on from the inside out could buy you a little more time before you have to hit the shops again.

Holes or rips in P.E. bags or schoolbags can also be repaired with sturdy patches, and again might buy you some time or another school term. Pencil cases that might look a little grubby could be brightened up for another year with a colourful patch and a quick wash. You can hang on to any clothes beyond repair instead of binning them. They might come in handy for school plays or dress-up at Hallowe’en and save another few euro.

Ensure you sew labels onto uniforms and P.E. gear so they can be returned if they go missing.

Generic not Branded

You might feel this goes without saying. However more than half of parents in our survey reported being under pressure from kids to buy branded at back to school time. If you give in to their demands you’ll see that back to school bill rise considerably. This is a good opportunity to educate your children about the value of money and explain to them about back to school budgeting. More advice on this in our ‘budget with the kids’ section blog in our back to school money savings tips.

If your budget allows, consider buying one branded item and keeping the rest generic.

More and more schools are introducing generic uniforms, so this will help to keep the cost of the back to school shopping list down. When buying generic uniforms, keep an eye out for two-for-one deals. You could also consider buying in a number of different sizes so you are ready to for when they grow out of their original size half way through the school term.

If your school has not yet introduced generic uniforms, consider organising a parent’s group to lobby for this. The Oireachtas Education Committee has now formally recommended that all schools allow generic uniforms, so you can reference this report.

Credit Union Loan Instead of Credit Card

Avoid using the credit card for your back to school shopping list at all costs. Although half of adults in Ireland own a credit card, six in ten say they have no idea how the interest works.** 20% thought they were only paying between 6% and 10% interest. Credit cards in Ireland typically charge rates between 13% and 23%! A lot of people also think they are fine if they clear the minimum balance. In reality, you will still be charged interest on the outstanding balance. It will also take you years to pay off your credit card this year. Credit cards are complex financial products.

A loan from the credit union is much more straightforward, and is just as convenient. In addition, a credit union can only charge 12.68% interest by law. And in reality, most credit unions charge interest rates much lower than this. There are never any hidden fees or charges. The interest is calculated on the reducing balance of the loan. The credit union will work with you to structure payments in a way that best suits your financial circumstances. If you want to pay back the loan early, you can do so without any penalty. Not to mention the fact that a lot of credit unions give their borrowers a loan interest rebate at the end of the year. See our blog for more on straightforward, flexible and affordable credit union loans.

Or contact your local credit union to ask about their Back to School loan.

Buy Second-Hand

Most schools will do second-hand book sales, or recommend the names of second-hand stores selling the necessary books. Make use of all of these resources. If not, then ask your local bookstore if they have second-hand versions of the books on your back-to-school list. Just ensure that they are the correct version stated on the list. It may also be possible for you to sell your own used school books to these stores. If none of these resources are available in your area, talk to other parents about setting up a yearly back-to-school second-hand book sale yourselves.

Buy in Bulk

There are generally good deals to be had at back to school time by buying copybooks, stationary, pen and pencil sets etc. in bulk. Buying at this time can be cheaper than later in the year, so bag the good deals while you can. Not to mention you’ll have all the items in stock when they are needed. If you do need replacement stationary and accessories during the year, try to buy these in the supermarket along with the weekly groceries. This will work out cheaper than buying from speciality stores.

You can do the same with generic uniforms or gym/P.E. gear. Buy these in bulk by taking advantage of two-for-one or other special deals. Buy in a few different sizes you’ll be ready for when they grow out of their original size during the school term. Or you could keep them on stand-by for the following year.

Home-made School Lunches

Making your own lunches for the kids will prove more cost-efficient than buying processed lunch foods, or a shop-bought lunch. A lot of these foods also contain large quantities of sugar, salt and other additives. So a home-made lunch will also be more nutritious. Plan ahead, and factor in what you’ll need to the weekly grocery list. Avail of any deals on foods in your local shops and supermarkets that will work for lunches.

You can also involve the kids in coming up with different lunches. Safefood.eu provides a downloadable leaflet with ideas for healthy and nutritious home-made school lunches.

Quality Goods

It’s worth investing in some large ticket items by buying quality versions, instead of having to buy new at the start of each school term. Kids can get a few years out of good quality, heavy duty schoolbags and rucksacks. Stainless steel lunchboxes and water/drinks holders can last years. They are also healthier for your kids than the plastic alternatives, not to mention better for the environment.

Back to School Swap Around

Get together with the other parents of school-going kids you know and arrange a back-to-school swap around. Books, schoolbags, even little-worn or heavier duty uniform items may all be possible to swap. This might be all the more beneficial if your parents attend a non-uniform school. Normal clothes can be a lot more expensive than uniforms, and parents might be happy to get clothes they no longer need out of their storage space! You’ll more than likely also get to swap some effective back to school money saving tips.
*2019 ILCU Back to School Costs Research (ROI and NI), carried out by iReach Insights
**2019 ILCU Credit Card Research (ROI), carried out by iReach Insights