Image 9 back-to-school money-saving tips for parents
Image Daragh Cassidy
Head Writer

It’s that time of year once again. Getting kids ready to go back to school can prove both stressful and expensive for parents. Here we’ve compiled a list of savings tips so that you don’t break the bank.

Preparing your children to go back to school is already challenging enough, but with the added implications of the ongoing pandemic, more families than ever will be struggling to afford the back-to-school essentials. And unfortunately, it seems as though costs are on the rise. 

The annual Irish League of Credit Unions back-to-school survey shows that the cost of sending a child to primary school this year is just shy of €1,200 while parents of secondary school children can expect to pay €1,491 on average.

According to the survey, 63% of parents find back-to-school costs to be challenging and a financial burden.  

Here are our top tips for saving money during the back-to-school season, which will help you avoid spending more than you have to!

1. Avail of the Back-to-School Clothing and Footwear Allowance

The Back-to-School Clothing and Footwear Allowance is a means-tested, one-off payment. It helps families with the extra costs associated with children starting school each autumn. 

With many still on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, more people may be eligible to apply this year. 

To qualify for the allowance, you must meet the following conditions: 

  • You must be in receipt of a qualifying social welfare payment (including the Working Family Payment, Back to Work Family Dividend and Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment) or participating in an approved employment, education or training support scheme.
  • You must be in receipt of an increase for a qualified child in respect of each child for whom the allowance is being claimed (except in certain circumstances).
  • Each child being claimed for must be aged between 4 and 17 or aged between 18 and 22 and returning to second-level education in the autumn.

The assessable income for your household must be within a set income limit, and the child you’re claiming the allowance for must be living in the country.

For children aged between 4-11, you can receive €150. For those aged 12-22, you can receive €275. 

To apply online, you must have a MyGovID account. The closing date for applications is 30th September 2021.

For further eligibility information and to apply for the allowance, visit the My Welfare Back-to-School Clothing & Footwear Allowance page. 

2. Buy second-hand books

Buying books can be one of the biggest back-to-school expenses, but many schools now have book rental schemes in place. If yours doesn’t, why not consider buying second-hand books instead?

While you can sometimes buy second-hand books from school book websites, many reserve used books for selling in-store only. Check in with your local bookstore to see if they have any second-hand versions of the books you require.

More and more people are posting books for sale online, on websites such as Adverts, Done Deal, eBay and Facebook Marketplace. Usually the seller uploads images, so you can see exactly what condition the books are in. 

Another option is SchoolDays.ie, which gives parents the ability to list unwanted books at a cheap price. This may be a good opportunity for you to unload some old unwanted school books yourself, allowing you to put money towards next year’s ones.

One watch-out when buying second-hand books is to make sure that you’re buying the right edition that’s required by the school. 

If you decide to buy new or used books from an online bookstore, make sure you check and see if they offer a free book covering service, which will save you time and money. Covering is always a good idea as it keeps books in good condition, making it easier for you to sell them in the future.

 3. Be savvy with uniforms

Along with books, uniforms can have a significant impact on your pocket and often are only sold by one supplier. However, there are some ways to save money:

  • You may be able to buy the school crest separately and sew it onto generic clothing that matches the school’s uniform. Check with the school first to see if this is an option.
  • Ask around and see if there are any second-hand uniforms available. The school themselves may have a good idea of who might be selling a second-hand uniform, or even ask other parents.
  • Buy items that don’t require the school logo elsewhere. Oftentimes clothing such as polo shirts, socks, shirts/blouses, skirts or trousers don’t require the school’s crest. Buying these at larger retail stores can help save you money.
  • When it comes to buying a school bag, it’s best to purchase a good quality one that will last a few years, as this can save you money over time. As the saying goes, buy cheap, buy twice!

Don’t forget to label everything clearly as well to avoid any uniform and book mix-ups with your children’s classmates.

4. Review transport options

Don’t underestimate the impact the cost of fuel can have. Even if your children’s school is close by, if you drive them to and from school daily, the cost of fuel can really add up. 

In March this year, the Government announced a new programme called Safe Routes to School, which will support active travel infrastructure for selected schools around the country. 

Over €15 million will be spent on creating safer walking and cycling routes within communities. So if you do live nearby your child's school, consider walking, cycling or scooting. Not only will your children get exercise, but travelling this way will also reduce your carbon footprint and avoid traffic congestion near the school. It’s a win-win!

If the school is too far, it may be worthwhile trying to set up a carpooling group with other parents in the area. 

Many schools offer a bus service, which can be a cheap and convenient option. If your children’s school doesn’t offer this, check and see how close the local buses go to the school.

5. Choose after-school activities carefully

After-school activities and hobbies can undeniably be expensive, particularly if you have multiple children.

Often children change their minds or lose interest in a hobby or sport very quickly. It’s best to avoid buying expensive equipment or gear until you know whether or not they’re going to stick with the activity long-term. 

If you’re unsure if your child will enjoy the activity, ask whoever is running it if they can try out one class/session for free so that you don’t end up wasting money.

Depending on the activity try to buy used equipment, or ask friends and family if they have any of the supplies you might need. Again, sites like Adverts, Done Deal, eBay and Facebook Marketplace are your friend here. 

If you can’t afford to pay the fees for the full year upfront, check and see if you can spread the fees out over a few months.

6. Reassess lunches

While it may require slightly more effort and time, homemade lunches are both more nutritious and cheaper than shop-bought lunches or processed foods.

When it comes to preparing homemade lunches, the key is to plan ahead. Making a list of everything you need before grocery shopping will ensure you’re equipped for the week and will avoid food wastage and unnecessary stress.

When food shopping, keep an eye out for any deals or special offers. If you can afford to, try to bulk buy as this can save money. However, be careful to check the best before dates!

To save time in the mornings, try to prepare the lunches the night before so that they’re ready to go. 

It’s also a good idea to buy reusable lunch bags/boxes and water bottles, as this will save money over time and is more environmentally friendly.

7. Go easy on the stationery

Whilst it’s unlikely to be your biggest back-to-school expense, the cost of all those calculators, pens, notebooks and erasures can still add up. 

Consider buying in bulk to save money and check out what’s on sale in the ‘Euro stores’ or ‘Pound stores’. They often have great deals on stationary come August and September.

Also, check if there’s a specific list of stationery that’s recommended - depending on the subjects your child is studying, things like scientific calculators, geometry sets, and art supplies may not be needed. And depending on how digitally savvy your child’s school is, they may not even need many pens and paper. 

And as always, don’t be afraid to use old supplies. Does your child really need a brand new calculator? Can some of last year’s pens do? 

8. Don't go gadget crazy

If e-books are a thing in your child’s school, then consider a refurbished iPad. 

Apple sells these itself on its website with savings of €400 or more compared to a brand new device available on some models.

According to Apple, all refurbished iPad models come with a new battery, new outer shell, are backed by a one-year warranty, have free delivery and returns, and are repackaged in a brand-new box with all accessories and cables.

And if you have a Revolut account you can currently get 3% cashback on all Apple purchases made with your card. 

Depending on your child’s age, they may also be pining for their first phone. If so, check out SIM-only plans. They provide exceptionally good value with some deals starting from as little as €5 per month for unlimited calls, texts and data (within fair usage limits of course).

However, these plans are still billpay at the end of the day, so it’s still possible for your kid to rack up big charges, inadvertently or on purpose, if they’re not careful! For example they could call premium rate or international numbers or go over the data limit and start getting charged.

For this reason, a pay-as-you-go plan for children up to 15 or so might be better. Emergency numbers are still free, calls are free to receive if you want to check in, and you have the comfort of knowing your child can’t spend more than their monthly top-up limit. 

When looking at phons, Doro is a cheap option that’s been marketed at mainly older customers but is often used as an entry-level phone for kids. It’s a very basic phone though and some (perhaps more spoilt kids!) might look at you in disgust if you offered it to them.

A better option might be Nokia – it has a wide range of smartphones to suit all budgets. The Nokia 3.4 isn’t a bad phone and retails at around €100. While its performance pales in comparison to top-of-the-range models from Samsung and Apple it should more than satisfy most younger kids who are getting a phone for the first time. Nokia also has the 225, which sells for around €40 or so. However at this price level, it is very much a basic phone.

9. Budget wisely

Budgeting ahead of time is vital to ensure that you don’t overspend and only stick to buying what’s needed.

Make a list

Even before starting your back-to-school shopping, it’s important to figure out how much you’ll need to spend, so make a list of everything you need to buy in advance. 

Having a list also makes it less likely to impulse buy and help you stick to your budget. Try to make note of what you spend this year so that you can plan ahead for next year. 

If you can, try to save a small amount of money regularly. Setting aside even €20-30 a month over the course of a year can make a huge difference when it comes to buying school supplies. 

It’s easy to set up a savings account that you can deposit money into for future school expenses. You can compare different account features and interest rates to find the best return for your savings using our savings account comparison tool.

Switch energy supplier

There are steps you can take that will reduce your household bills, meaning you could put this money towards next year’s back-to-school costs.

One of the easiest ways to save money is by switching energy suppliers. Energy prices are currently on the rise, so if your gas or electricity contract is up, switching is definitely worthwhile!

With our easy-to-use energy comparison service, you can compare energy deals from 14 different suppliers in Ireland. It only takes a few minutes to switch and you could save over €500 on your annual energy bills, which you could put towards back-to-school costs. 

Check out our guide on what you need to switch for more information.

Other ways to save

By simply adjusting your habits around the home, you could use less electricity and save money. From using LED light bulbs to reducing how much you use the tumble dryer, here’s a list of 15 ways to reduce your electricity consumption.

Did you also know that you can reduce your home insurance costs without reducing your level of cover? It’s surprisingly easy. Check out our guide to learn more about reducing your home insurance costs.

If you’re willing to invest the time to review all of your household bills, you could save up to €7,000. We explain exactly how you can achieve these impressive savings in this article.

Take out a personal loan

While it may be a last resort, you can always borrow money to help cover school expenses. 

Our personal loan comparison service makes it easy to compare interest rates and loan features from Ireland’s main lenders and will show you what your monthly repayments would be.

Let us know your thoughts

Have you tried out any of the above tips? Do you have any other suggestions on ways other parents can save on back-to-school essentials? We’d love to know!

Remember that you can always save money on bonkers.ie. 

Try out our comparison tools for energy, broadband, phone and TV, insurance policies, and banking and mortgage products. See how much you could save in just a few clicks!

We’re always releasing more helpful articles, so make sure you stay up to date with all of the latest news and savings tips with our blogs and guides.

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