Food for thought on cutting costs of back-to-school

Mother of seven Jen Hogan has to be savvy when it comes to back-to-school. Here’s what she’s learnt...

Jen Hogan with her 7 children,

THE countdown to the return to school is well and truly on.

For some parents, the return to some semblance of normality holds great appeal, but for the majority, the return is overshadowed by the huge expense involved.

Five of my seven are in formal education, one of whom attends secondary school, while number six is just about to start Montessori.

Its’s a hugely expensive time and an enormous financial pressure, but there are ways to help reduce the cost:

Book Swap

When my first child started school, I hoarded each and every book she owned, confident that it would be used by her brother who followed, when his turn came.

The reality proved different. Some books had changed and others were loaned by the school.

The end result was that I had a lot of useless books left over and little reduction in my booklist costs.

A few mothers from the school and I became involved in a book exchange.

We all have children of different ages and while there was some overlap, there were plenty of us with a child the year directly above or directly below each other’s children.

We swapped whatever books possible immediately, rather than taking the risk of hanging on to them for a couple of years and discovering that they were no longer in use.

Some years we each do better than others from the exchange but any saving is always welcomed!

Second Hand Books

Many bookstores no longer just sell second hand school books but are also very happy to purchase any school books that you might have to offer them, as long as they’re in good condition.

The money earned from the sale of your books can be used as a credit against any books that you have to buy.

It’s a great way to cut down on one of the biggest expenses of the return to school and another good reason to encourage your children to take good care of their books throughout the year.

Discount Outlets

Discount outlets such as Kildare Village are great places to buy school shoes.

Clarks shoe store is on site as are several sports stores, such as Nike, Reebok and Asics, if a branded runner is your preference.

All shoes are sold at a reduced price and if you’re buying several pairs the savings can really mount up.

Just last week, we loaded up the troops and took them there to get new school shoes for the year ahead.

We saved €100 on shoes alone — that’s before we even bought the runners. A saving not to be sniffed at!

Uniforms

Crested items are invariably the most expensive part of the uniform and usually only available from one specific shop.

A uniform swap within a group of mum friends, operating in a similar fashion to the book swap can help here.

I have very gratefully received crested jumpers and polo shirts from mums whose children had grown out of them and very happily passed on crested pieces of my daughter’s uniform.

Share and share alike.

For the non-crested pieces, it’s just a case of watching the high street stores and supermarkets to see who has the best value — and in this house, who offers re-inforced trouser knees!

Stationery and copybooks

Making a list before you go to buy is the best way to make sure that you get the best value.

Bulk buying copies works out much cheaper, and stores such as Heatons have a 3 for 2 on their back-to-school stationery at the moment.

The key is knowing exactly what you need so that you don’t end up buying extra because of the “great value”, thereby spending more in the end.

School bags

When it comes to new school bags, often overlooked is the online option.

I have bought school bags from Sports Direct at fantastic value.

The one thing to be careful of however, is measurements.

The picture alone won’t give you a true indication of the size, as I discovered the first time I ordered a bag and ended up with something that could barely fit a lunchbox.

School Deposits

Some secondary schools request a deposit to keep a place for a future student. (Whether or not they should is another issue, but it happens.)

My son’s school requires a €400 deposit, which is significant at the best of times, never mind when all the other back-to-school costs have to be taken into account.

If this is the case for you, it’s worth speaking to the school about paying in instalments.

Keep your eyes peeled

Sometimes bargains pop up when you least expect them.

On holidays in West Cork, I picked up quality drinks beakers for the children at a knock- down price in a shop that sold “bits and bobs”.

It pays to stay on duty!

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