Back to school

Having a child starting or returning to school is always an expensive time and you may be concerned about meeting the costs of uniforms, books, travel and  lunches among other things. Follow our tips below for ways to save on back-to-school costs.


Uniforms can be one of the biggest back to school expenses, particularly if the uniform is only stocked by one shop. Schools are now encouraged to allow a number of businesses to supply their school uniform so that you can shop around for the best value and quality. Another option is for schools to allow students to wear generic clothing, which can be bought in large shops and department stores, and to allow parents to attach the school crest themselves. If your child’s school has not yet taken this approach, we would encourage you to bring this up with the school principal or board of management.

  • Ask your school or other parents to see if there is a second-hand uniform sale planned. Some websites or local groups on social media sites also sell second-hand uniforms.
  • Keep an eye out for special promotions in shops on school uniforms, such as 3-for-2 offers on items such as shirts and polo shirts. If you can, buy a few packs in different sizes so that you can keep using them when your child has grown.
  • Try to shop around for generic items of clothing like grey skirts or trousers. The larger chain stores can be good for these, but remember that stocks don’t last when demand is high so it’s a good idea to buy early rather than waiting until just before the start of the new school year.
  • Some stores discount uniforms at the end of September or October, so you could buy a few pieces for your child for the following year in a larger size.
  • Watch out for shoe sales during the year.
  • If you can, buy a good quality rucksack that will last for a couple of years. This will reduce cost in the long run as you won’t have to change it every year.


  • Consider buying second-hand schoolbooks. Just make sure to check whether your school specifies a particular edition of a particular textbook. Some schoolbook websites also sell second-hand books.
  • If you have to buy brand new books, make sure you shop around. You can compare prices in bookshops and online.
  • Exchange books with other parents to save money.
  • When buying books, check if the retailer is also offering free book covering as this will save you time and money.
  • Many schools operate book-lending schemes.
  • You may be able to sell your child’s old books if they are in good condition. Teach your children to take care of their books as this makes it easier to sell on the books if your child is finished with them. If they are underlining words ask them to underline in pencil instead of pen so that this can be rubbed out before selling the book on.
  • If you have a social media profile, you could post your child’s booklist to see if your friends have any of the books second-hand.


  • Buying stationery in bulk can be cheaper than buying items one-by-one. There are usually good offers at back-to-school time, such as bundles of copybooks, pens and notebooks, so, if you can afford it, it might be worth buying stocks to keep your kids going for the year.
  • If not, stationery items could be bought week-by-week with your weekly shop.


  • Packed lunches prepared at home are not only cheaper than shop-bought lunches – they are often more nutritious. A little time spent planning your family’s weekday lunch menu before you do the shopping can reduce food wastage and save you money.
  • Bulk-buy food. This can be expensive initially but will last for several days, and many foods can also be frozen. However, do make sure to check shelf life of what you buy.
  • Buy foods that are in season as they are normally cheaper.
  • You can get tips on making healthy lunches on the safefood website.


  • The cost of fuel can really add up if you drive your children in and out to school every day. If you know anyone in your area who has children attending the same school, it might be worth suggesting that you carpool. This will save you time and reduces your carbon footprint. If you live near the school, consider cycling or walking – it will save you money and is also good exercise!
  • Check if your child is eligible to get the bus to school. It could be a more cost-effective option and most children enjoy travelling to school with their friends.

After-school activities

  • Ask family and friends if they can pass on any equipment or supplies that they don’t need.
  • Children often change their minds about a sport or hobby, so ask if they can attend the first class for free before paying the full fee.
  • Hold off on buying expensive gear and equipment until you know if your child is going to stick with the activity.
  • If the fee is for the full year, ask if you can spread the costs over a few months rather than paying it all up-front.

It’s never too early to start planning ahead

If you can afford to, it’s a good idea to start to plan ahead and put a little money aside for next year’s back-to-school costs. Keep a note of what you spent this year, so you’ll know approximately how much you’ll need the following year.

Saving even a small amount regularly can make a big difference. For example, saving €5 each week will add up to €260 for back-to-school costs next year. You could consider giving up something small such as buying a newspaper or morning coffee and putting the money you save in a jar every day to build it up towards next year’s costs.

If you have to borrow money to pay for school expenses, shop around for the cheapest form of credit. To compare the cost of a loan, check out our personal loan Money Tool. You could also consider looking at your local credit union loan rates. Don’t miss any loan repayments as this will incur late fees.

Or, buy a gift card for a bookshop that sells school books or stationery at the start of the year and top it up by a small amount, such as €10, as often as you can so that you will have built up a good sum of money for back-to-school supplies by the time September comes around.

Last updated on 15 November 2019

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