The annual Irish League of Credit Unions’ (ILCU) survey shows clearly that parents continue to struggle with the back to school spend. 20% of primary school parents and 31% of secondary school parents say they will be forced to deny their children certain school items this year. Of those who say this, almost four-in-ten say they can’t buy their children new school shoes. More than two-thirds say they can’t afford extracurricular activities. 36% say gym gear, and a further 36% say school trips, will be the items cut from the back to school list as they struggle to cope with costs.

Although more parents than ever are now in a position to finance back to school costs through their monthly income (71% compared with 64% last year and 41% the previous two years), the survey results show that funding this annual spend continues to be a challenge. A substantial 72% of parents feel the back to school spend is a financial burden, with more than a quarter (27%) saying the costs will impact negatively on household bills.

25% of parents will have to deny their children the following items;

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Average Spend on School-Related Items
According to parents in the nationwide survey, the average back to school spend continues to rise – and has now reached €1,209 per child. This is an increase of 2% on 2016 (€1,185) and a rise of 4.7% on 2015 (€1,154).

The average spend per primary school child has increased by a significant €81 since last year to €1,048. On a more positive note, costs per secondary school child have fallen from €1,474 to €1,401, while campaigns to bring down the price of school uniforms appear to have paid off, with a fall of 21% (€39) in the cost of uniforms since last year.

The most expensive school-related cost continues to be extracurricular activities, at an average of €187 per child. This is followed by school lunches at €154 and school books at €150. Fees and voluntary contributions remained on a par with last year at €113. The vast majority of parents (71%) say they will be paying a voluntary contribution this year.

Breakdown of Spend on School Items;

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Impact of Back to School Spend
There was a notable increase in the numbers saying they would sacrifice spending on family holidays in 2017 because of school related costs. 43% of parents say they will cut holiday spending compared with 38% in 2016. 51% of secondary school parents say they will be forced to reduce holiday costs compared with 39% of primary school parents. More than a quarter of all parents (28%) say summer camps are an area in which they will have to cut spending. 11% say spending on credit cards and food will be cut in order to manage back to school costs.

Cuts in spending in order to manage school costs;

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Debt
29% of parents say they will get into debt funding the back to school spend – down 2% on last year. Of those who said they would have to borrow, the average amount borrowed also dropped slightly – down from €357 last year to €345 this year. Primary school parents on average borrow €310, significantly less than secondary school parents who borrow €415.

The majority of parents continue to believe that Irish schools do not do enough to support them in helping to keep costs down. 76% were of this view, broadly in line with 75% last year. The negative attitude is most pronounced in secondary school parents (85%).

Biggest Concern for Parents
The main concern for parents in the lead-up to the return to school are the associated costs (42%). This worry is even more pronounced for secondary school parents, half of whom say costs is their main concern – compared with a third of primary school parents. These financial concerns come in well ahead of worrying that children will settle at school and make friends, with just 16% reporting this to be their biggest worry.

Best Value Back to School Retailers
According to parents, Tesco is now the preferred retailer for the bulk of Back to School items with almost one third (31%) getting their school supplies there. Dunnes Stores has fallen to second place (19%), Marks and Spencer comes in third place (11%) with Aldi in fourth (8%).

When it comes to school uniforms, parents again say that Tesco is now their preferred store with almost a quarter of parents shopping for uniforms there (23%).   Marks and Spencer is in second place for school uniform value (18%). Dunnes Stores slips to third place with 15% of parents now shopping for uniforms there compared with 20% last year.

A significant two thirds of parents say they will buy foreign school products over Irish produced goods if it means making savings. (65% of primary school parents and 67% of secondary school parents).

Preferred retailers for school uniforms;

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Manner of Funding School-Related Costs
After monthly income, savings continues to be the preferred method of funding the back to school with one third of parents using saved funds. 16% rely on the Back to School allowance, down from 20% in 2016. The numbers using credit cards remained the same on 16% while worryingly, the numbers saying they would consider turning to a moneylender (4%) were up 1% on last year.

7% said they would use the credit union while just 1% said they would approach the bank. 4% said they would use a moneylender – up slightly on 2016.

Methods of Funding Back to School Spend;

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Commenting on this year’s findings, ILCU Head of Marketing and Communications, Emmet Oliver said “It is somewhat encouraging to see that more parents than ever are funding the back to school spend through their monthly income, with a fall in the numbers getting into debt. However it’s clear that the back to school spend is still so much of a financial burden on parents that they are forced to deny their children some basic items, as well as sacrifice spending on family holidays and even food. While the rise in numbers using moneylender was marginal, we would find any increase like this concerning and would really encourage parents to instead talk to their local credit union, where interest rates are fair and capped by law.

Mr Oliver continued “We would also urge parents to set a budget for the back to school spend, and if they need assistance with this to also contact their local credit union for guidance. Planning and budgeting ahead for a yearly spend, such as back to school, can go a long way to helping you spend within your means, avoid financial stress and ensure that you don’t get into unnecessary debt.

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