They say education is the key to freedom – but it sure isn’t free! Year in, year out, as the kids get older, without fail, their schooling gets more expensive. It may seem bizarre to be thinking about the start of another term when the summer holidays are only just upon us, but now is the time to get on top of your finances before you get swept up in the busy bustle of late-August shopping. As scout founder Baden-Powell stated be prepared !

The Back to School Allowance

Although significantly reduced in recent years, the Back to School Allowance received a slight increase in 2017. And for those in receipt of it, it can make a huge difference. As of now, the allowance for each eligible child between the ages of 4 and 11 on or before September 30th, 2018 is  €125; while eligible children aged between 12 and 22 are allowed €250 each (bearing in mind that those between 18-22 must be in full-time education).

Make sure to apply for this if you can – applications stay open until September 30th, so you still have time. You qualify for the allowance if you are in receipt of Social Welfare or HSE payment; are part of a back-to-work scheme, education/training course or Area Partnership Scheme; or are attending a FET course. If you don’t meet these criteria, there is also a means test, available on You can get help with applying at any Intreo Centre, Social Welfare Branch office or Citizens Information Centre.

Get organised

One of the Money Doctor’s most tried and tested tips, it’s true – but organisation always saves you money! One great way this applies to each new school year is through your kids’ lunches. Planning your weekly shop and even dinner menu with school lunches in mind is a great way to make sure you don’t overspend on pre-made snacks, or get caught out by the need for convenience food. For older kids especially, a box of Monday night’s stir fry that they can microwave in the school canteen is miles better – and cheaper – than a shop-bought sandwich.

Hold off on the hobbies – to start with

After-school classes, sports and clubs can be a hugely beneficial and healthy addition to your child’s schedule. But we all know that kids can be flighty and what may have piqued their interest at the start of the year can look a lot less appealing on cold November evenings. As so many classes require full payment up front, try to think hard about what makes the most sense: is your child’s best friend also attending? Can you carpool with their parents to save money on fuel? Does it make sense for little Johnny to take on art classes when he’s already got hurling, rugby and piano? It’s important for your child to have a well-rounded school experience, but you don’t need to pay through the nose and give into every hobby request.

Books and uniforms

Some of the most expensive items on every family’s list include uniforms and books – these are the tough ones. Unfortunately, as many books get reprinted and editions change from year to year, second-hand books can be problematic – but don’t lose hope! Always take your booklist to a second-hand shop before buying new and at least check.

Obviously, hand-me-downs between your own children are a great way to save money; but make sure to also check out if your child’s school runs any kind of book or uniform fair at the end of the year – and if they don’t, why not start one? The sturdier items like jumpers, pinafores, ties and blazers will fare much better than shirts and tracksuits, and you could save a small fortune. Don’t forget charity shops either – it’s a win-win for you and them.

Finally enjoy this time – it really is fleeting and over so quickly.

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