Making Cents: Making their day special without breaking the bank

It is only a matter of weeks before churchyards around Ireland will be filled with adorable children in white dresses or suits. With First Holy Communion season just around the corner, and many parents are facing a hectic period of planning, writes Gráinne McGuinness.

While it is an exciting time of family celebration for many, paying for everything can be a huge source of stress. The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) see the impact on struggling families every year.

“It’s not always easy to categorise the increase directly for First Holy Communion costs,” says a spokesman. “Some families would use what spare money they have on their children and then seek SVP help with other costs, utility bills for example.

“This is a very common experience for SVP volunteers who visit those who have requested help. People on inadequate income who struggle from week to week have to make choices coming up to special times such as First Holy Communion, back-to-school etc.”

If you worry that your household budget will struggle to cope, take steps now to do what you can. Communions are one to three months away in most cases, so work out if you can put something aside each week/month until then and calculate what budget that will give you.

You can download a Communion budget sheet free from www.mabs.ie — filling it in will give you a clear idea of what the day is likely to cost.

If the figure you reach doesn’t match the sum you think you will have, MABS’s advice is to go back over the list and see where savings can be made.

MABS suggests having an event at home rather than going out. You can ask family and close friends to bring a dish each and find low-cost or free ways to entertain the child guests. At that age, children generally just want to play together, so don’t be pressured into bouncy castles or entertainers when they’ll be just as amused by organised games and a film.

Another MABS suggestion is to combine celebrations with classmates, dividing the costs across a few families. Not only will this reduce the bill, the children will be delighted to share the days with their friends.

A frequent bugbear of parents is the expectation that you will give a card, with money, to your child’s classmates. This is clearly unnecessary, the young people will get more than enough and it only adds to the pressure on parents. Ideally, agree among all parents that it will not be done or else arrange that each child gets one card signed by all their classmates. That way each family will only have to buy one card and put an agreed amount in.

When it comes to clothing, more and more shops offer low-cost dresses and suits. Discount store Mr Price unveiled its Communion range earlier this month, with dresses from €39.99 and accessories from €3.99.

You can dress your child for even less if you consider secondhand options, in-store or online. A number of Irish buy-and-sell websites, including Donedeal.ie and Adverts.ie are filled with beautiful outfits selling at a fraction of their original cost. Remember, this is an outfit that is only going to get one use, so try not to feel pressured into spending a fortune.

If you need to borrow, The Irish League of Credit Unions wants parents to come to them first, rather than use credit cards or other options.

“We would strongly urge parents to avoid moneylenders at all costs,” spokesperson Lonán Paul said.

People might think they will just use a moneylender as a one-off for an event such as a First Communion, but often they might find themselves having to borrow again just to meet the loan repayments because of the extremely high interest rates being charged.

“The average rate being charged by a credit union on a one-year personal loan is 7.1%, and on a secured one-year loan, the average rate is 6%.

“Credit unions are also very flexible when it comes to loan repayments. They will take the time to work with borrowers to agree a payment plan.”

If you are struggling, the SVP will work to help anyone who contacts them at their local office.

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