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Back to School Money Saving Tips

Education 6 min read

24 Aug 2020

Back to school costs continue to rise for parents and the financial burden it brings remains a big worry for families. This year’s ILCU back to school survey shows that spending on primary school is up to €1,123 per child (£908 in Northern Ireland and at second level its €1,467 (£1,036 in Northern Ireland). *

The survey revealed that the average debt parents find themselves in to cover the costs of back to school is €397, an increase of €40 from last year and parents NI have an average debt of £222, an increase of £30 on last year.

With the new academic year fast approaching, and there is still much uncertainty around returning to school, parents are caught in limbo, and already anxious about their children’s education and well-being. Read below for the 8 top ways to cut costs on the back to school shopping list.

Back to School Budget

Yep, we know, you don’t have the time to work out a budget. You’d be surprised though how quickly you can get this done once you start. You might also be surprised how much it will help with managing the spend on back to school supplies.

Decide on a morning, or evening, and put an hour or two aside to get it done. Start with making a note of your and/or your partner’s monthly income. Write down all other sources of monthly income, e.g. children’s allowance etc. Next focus on your outgoing items, mortgage, groceries, utility bills and any loan repayments. The look at what you spend on items that are not totally necessary, and write these down also. You need to be honest here! Look at each month and factor in when and where you’ll be likely to be hit with school-related costs, think voluntary contributions, school trips etc. Perhaps there is some spending on unnecessary items that can be cut in these months?

An important question to ask yourself if you will rely on the credit card to pay for back-to-school items. If the answer is yes, you should consider a credit union loan. Yes, we know, we’re biased. Whatever way you look at it however, interest rates on credit union loans are much lower than credit card interest. The terms of the loan will be far more straightforward than the T&C’s related to credit card interest. You might also be surprised to learn about all the benefits that come with a credit union loan.

Don’t forget, keep all of your receipts so you can budget ahead for back to school the following year. You can also talk to the friendly staff in your local credit union for more tips on budgeting for back to school.

Budget with your Kids!

We’ve talked before about the importance of financial education for children. It’s never too early to start and back to school time is an ideal opportunity. Once you have your own budget worked out, sit down with the kids and explain about planning ahead for back to school. Ask them what school supplies they need for the year ahead and get them to write them down. Then go through everything on the list and help them discerning needs from wants.

Parents told us that they feel pressurised to buy branded goods. Parents at second level feel this pressure the most. Teenagers are more likely to want the school shoes, backpacks, trainers etc. that are popular with their peers. If you do buy branded goods, explain to your children that it won’t be possible to buy new/replacement versions during the year - and even for the following year. Consider buying just one branded item for them and mixing this with generic items.

Another option to consider is allowing them the branded items they want, provided they pay themselves with their pocket money/allowance. They can use the summer months to save for this. This will be a valuable lesson in financial management and saving for your children.

Don’t Use A Credit Card

A sure-fire way to save money on back to school is to completely avoid using the credit card. The interest you accrue will end up costing you more in the long run, and impacting on your household budget. Not to mention the fact that if you miss a monthly payment, it will be a negative mark on your credit history. Recent research carried out by the ILCU revealed that over half of Irish credit card holders (58%) don’t know what interest rate they are paying! Check out our blog for more on this.

If you need a little financial assistance to get the kids ready for back to school, then inform yourself about credit union loans. You can check out our blog for all the benefits of a credit union loan, including flexibility with repayments and quick approval.

Here’s everything you need to know if it’s your first time applying for a credit union loan.

Quick & Easy Savings

It’s never too early to start saving for the back to school spend. This doesn’t need to be an exercise in torture or rigorous self-discipline. Setting even a small amount aside every week during the school term could make a big difference. Let’s say you start the new school term with setting aside the price of two take-away coffees every week (€2.50/£2.50 per coffee). This would add up to €200/£200 over 10 months. According to our national survey, this would cover the price of books for the year, which is no small saving! (Parents at primary school are spending €123/£47 in NI on books, and at second level they’re paying €220/£78 in NI).

Back to School Audit

This is probably the last thing you want to do when school’s out for summer! Try to just put an hour or two aside and carry out a back to school audit when the term ends. Make a list of all the items that are in good enough condition for the year ahead, e.g. backpacks, lunch boxes, trainers. Ensure you cross these off the back to school shopping list.

Check the older kid’s school uniforms and P.E. gear. If it’s in good enough condition, then you may be able to use it for your younger kids. Check to see if you bought any items in bulk that you might have forgotten about. There are often deals on buying stationary, pens, pencils etc. if you buy in bulk. If you have availed of these deals, you may well have some unopened items left over that you won’t need to buy new again.

Shop with A List

Don’t even think of hitting the shop without being armed with your back to school list. Make sure the list includes the items you already have at home, so you don’t mistakenly buy unnecessarily. Be disciplined and stick to the list. Resist the urge to impulse buy or you’ll be kicking yourself for months to come when other school costs roll in.

New is Not Always Better

Don’t be afraid to buy second-hand, or make do with second hand uniforms/clothes. During the school term, books will be thrown into bags, dumped into lockers and generally messed around. So there is no need to put yourself under pressure with buying them brand new. Most schools will do second-hand book sales, or recommend the names of second-hand stores selling the necessary books. While uniforms can wear out quickly, it may be possible to hand down heavier duty items like school jumpers or blazers to younger kids. Or you could swap or borrow from relatives or other parents. Which brings us to our final tip……

Talk to Other Parents

A problem shared is a problem halved. Other parents getting their kids ready for back to school are just as likely to have the same financial challenges. Chat to them about how you can collectively make savings. If you have children of different ages, it might be possible to swap books. Likewise, you could swap jumpers, blazers or uniforms that may not have been worn much if the kids grew out of them quickly. Other parents might also have some tried-and-tested back to school money saving tips of their own. 

*2020 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