Back to school costs... start to plan now

As a new survey commissioned by the Irish League of Credit Unions reveals that parents pay around €1,209 per child in return-to-school costs , Margaret O’Neill Co-ordinator Cork MABS, outlines how to budget for the school year ahead
Back to school costs... start to plan now
Start planning for back to school costs now.

SCHOOL is out — the summer school holidays are well underway, the sun is shining and everyone is ready to have a good time. It all sounds great doesn’t it? However, no-one mentions the cost of preparing your littlest one for their first day at school or for your older children returning to school and the stress and worry it can cause. If we think about the beginning of the school year it immediately brings to mind the cost associated with uniforms, books and all the other school and college costs.

However, if you prepare now you can relax and enjoy the summer, spend time with your children and be ready with an easy mind and stress free for the return to school when September comes around. In an ideal world MABS would advise parents to start planning in May to spread the cost of going back to school. However, it’s still early, you have loads of time and we can help.


The list of items can seem endless. Rather than wait for the final days of August to rush out and buy everything, it’s a good idea to start planning now while you have time and the shops are promoting special offers and discounts with some of the low cost supermarkets offering unbelievable value on generic school uniforms. Some of the high street discount stores have great value on school stationary items. If money is tight and you cannot see a way in meeting those costs, there are a number of schemes which offer help towards the cost of going to school, as follows:


The Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance helps you to meet the cost of uniforms and footwear for children going to school. The Scheme runs each year from June 1 until September 30. You may qualify for the Allowance if you are:

Getting a social welfare payment (including the Family Income Supplement and Back to Work Family Dividend or a Health Service Executive payment.

Taking part in an approved employment scheme.

Taking part in a recognised education or training course.

Involved in an Area Partnership Scheme.

Attending a FET (formally FAS), Failte Ireland or LES training scheme.

To qualify for this allowance, your household income must be below a certain limit, depending on your family composition. In general, the rate of the allowance paid for each eligible child is as follows:

Aged 4 to 11 on or before September 30 is €125.

Aged 12 to 22 on or before September 30 and in second level education the rate is €250.

Children in third level education are not eligible.

If you qualified for the allowance last year, it is likely that you will again this year. The Department of Social Protection wrote to you in early June. Application forms are available online at, your local social welfare office or by calling lo call 1890 66 22 44.


After Christmas, if you have a young person taking junior or leaving cert, you will be asked to pay exam fees. Remember if you or your child holds a current medical card, he/she is exempt from the fee. Enter the medical card details on the fee payment form and return to the school before the required date.


Follow the below steps to help you plan now for back to school costs.


The school uniform and book list will have been given out at the end of this school year.

Ask the principal if the school offers the Book Rental Scheme or other supports available under the School Books Grant Scheme.

Check if the school runs a second-hand book and uniform sale.

Ask friends and family if they have any of the books on the list or organise your own book and uniform exchange with friends and neighbours — you’ll never know unless you ask.

Ask your local book-shop if they offer instalment plans and pay for the cost of books over the next couple of weeks.

Copybooks, pens and pencils can all be cheaper if bought in large quantities — will a friend or neighbour split the costs with you if you buy a lot together?

Re-use stationery items such as folders, files and pockets if they are in good order — no need to buy new.

Watch the shops for special promotions on uniforms. Most stores are offering discounts in the lead in to the school year.

Shop around for generic uniform items like shirts, t-shirts, trousers and skirts in local chain stores — there are great offers out there — check them out.

Check with the principal on other costs that come up over the year for things like art & craft, photocopying, school trips etc. and plan for them.

Remember the voluntary contribution is voluntary — speak with the principal if you have any difficulty.


List the costs using our budget guide.

Check if you qualify for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance.

Subtract it from the total cost to find out the balance needed.

We have a handy guide of all items for your use — drop in or contact us to get a copy.


Work out how many weeks are left until September and how much you will need to save each week to cover the cost.

Ask yourself can you afford to cover the costs from your income or Child Benefit Payment? If not, look at your budget again and see if you can reduce the costs further.

If you have to borrow, think about whether you can afford the repayments, make sure to get the best rate (APR). Your local Credit Union will usually have the best lending rate. They are now also offering a new scheme known as the “Micro Credit Scheme also known as “It Makes Sense Loans” are available to people getting a social welfare payment that may not be able to get credit from other sources so contact your local credit union to find out more.


We can help you with budgeting for the next school year and for family occasions such as communion and confirmation — contact us to speak to an advisor. As well as helping you with money management, we now have two new additional services where we have dedicated advisors to help you with your mortgage problems and can get you a “Fresh Start” and free from debt up to €35,000. To find out more contact: CORK MABS Drop in to speak with An Advisor to, 101 North Main Street, CORK (near Gate Cinema) or call on 0761 07 2090. email:, it is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.

MABS is a free and confidential service. See

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