Consumer Champion: Get ahead of the game now to cut down on hefty back-to-school costs
Sorry, but it's in your own interest, I promise. We've had a lovely spell of weather, and the kids have just started their summer holidays, but it's not a moment too soon to start thinking about them returning for September.
Just have a look around the shops - uniforms are on display; school books are making an appearance and you've already received notes looking for money. This week, I'm looking at getting ahead of the game - achieving an A in organisation and cutting costs where you can.
It can be notoriously difficult to get hold of individual items as the new term approaches. Shops are anxious to get rid of stock early and offer discounts. Annoyingly, VAT is 23pc on school uniforms, but despite that, stores have some good prices for parents: Marks & Spencer currently has 20pc off uniforms, with a basic shirt, jumper and pants/skirt from €35 with free delivery on certain orders.
If you buy online, you can have everything delivered to your nearest store.
Dunnes Stores have pinafores from €5.50, jumpers from €7.50 and 2-pack shirts from €9-14. They usually have a nice range of shoes too, so that's worth checking out. Debenhams also has up to 20pc off on some items with pinafores now €8.40-9.60, 2-pack blouses €7.20-14.40 and cute Minion lunch boxes for €15 with Disney Frozen school bags €19.
Consider buying 'second set' bits and pieces from local charity shops which will have rails of jumpers and tracksuits now for as little as €1 an item. Avoid expensive crested jumpers (up to €50 each) by buying crests (€3-5) separately and sewing them on.
Many primary and secondary schools have book rental schemes and you may have received notification about yours now. This is a super way of budgeting for books. If you must buy them, try Done Deal or National Book Exchange for second hand. Eason has 10pc off school books until July 19 by producing your loyalty card or, better still, avoiding queues by shopping online using the 'SIMPLE' code and collecting the lot in-store. They have a book-covering service if you're feeling lazy, for 75c per book. Book Haven has teamed up with Parcel Motel to post books for free until July 28.
Both the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance (BTSCFA) and the Susi Grant are available now. They are means tested (see table). The first is €100 for children aged 4-11 and €200 for those aged 12-22, but in second-level education only.
You need to be in receipt of a social welfare or HSE (eg disability) payment which has a 'qualifying child' addition.
If you received it last year, it will automatically be paid by July 17 this year; if you are applying anew, email email@example.com or text BTSCFA, with your name and address to 51909.
The SUSI grant is for third level, and covers 50 or 100pc of the student contribution (€3,000), and/or 25, 50, 75 or 100pc of maintenance for living away from home (max €5,915). It is means tested, but the 'means' are generous, so do apply by the August 1 deadline.
It may not seem 'voluntary' but if you're struggling to pay, have a word with the school principal who will be happy to arrange payment spreading.
Cost of casually browsing Amazon
When is a scam not a scam? When it's a dud purchase.
I write so often here about people being ripped off by shady merchants that perhaps I've become a bit too wary. So, when €112 disappeared from my bank account for a service I didn't buy, my radar was on immediate alert. The online 'purchase' was from Amazon, a normally highly reputable company, so clearly I was concerned.
I got in touch to warn them but discovered it wasn't a scam at all! In 'browsing' their website, they claimed, I "might have signed up accidentally" for a 'free trial' of Prime - their subscription-based downloading service which automatically converts to a paid option if you don't cancel it. Hmmm. They refunded the money immediately, once I pointed out I hadn't bought it - or anything - from the Amazon UK site (I'm a US customer as the Dollar conversion is much better value).
However, in the meantime, Mastercard had noted the 'suspicious' activity and cancelled my credit card causing me some embarrassment in a shop.
Dear me. It's hard to know which was more annoying, but if I hadn't spotted it, I might have had to resort to a new credit card - at cost - for something that wasn't my fault. They accepted a verbal assurance on this occasion. I'll still use Amazon, especially for Kindle, but be far more careful to check my account for real purchases.
Lorna puts weight behind 'Drop and Shop' discount at Oxfam
I always have a browse in Oxfam when in town and was delighted to see a new initiative making it even better value than it already is. 'Drop and Shop' gives customers who drop off a bag of items they no longer need and shop in the same visit a 15pc discount on their purchases.
It runs until the end of August, backed by fashion stylist Lorna Weightman (left), and if you tweet #dropandshop, tagging Oxfam, you could win a refurbished iPad2 also.
There are shops in Francis St, George's St and South King Street among others.