Parents struggling with back-to-school costs

Struggling parents believe September and not Christmas is now the most expensive time for households because of rising back to school costs.

Struggling parents believe September and not Christmas is now the most expensive time for households because of rising back to school costs.

Those were the frank admissions put forward by two families at opposite ends of the county this week as schools in Co Longford prepare to re-open their doors next month.

Some parents, like Granard’s Patricia Masterson, have even been forced to give up work due to the escalating financial demands associated with childcare.

With the start of another academic year a matter of weeks away, Patricia spoke candidly about what the next 12 months are likely to bring.

“It’s (September) a nightmare,” she confessed to the Leader this week. “From talking to other parents too, all the talk used to be that Christmas was the worst time financially but now that has changed because everyone is talking about September. It is the worst nightmare for any parent.”

All of her school-going children attend the local primary, Aughnagarron National School and Cnoc Mhuire Secondary School.

Ten years ago, Patricia took the drastic step to leave her job as a nurse, instead resorting to a full time housewife.

“It just wasn’t feasible so I decided to give up work,” she added, revealing that most her wages were spent largely on childcare costs.

Last week, children’s charity Barnardos revealed mothers and fathers were growing increasingly frustrated at high prices, with some forking out €770 for a child’s first year of secondary school.

Patricia revealed her total outlay could rise to as much as €1,000 when all the costs from her own household are collated next month.

“I have a daughter at primary school and for her, between uniform and everything else I’m looking at around €160. Then, I have €200 that’s gone straight away on secondary school costs and that’s before I even start looking at books and uniforms,” she said.

Other parents meanwhile, hit out at the so-called ‘hidden costs’ which have become an unwelcome hallmark of the education system.

Ballymahon mother of four Samantha Fitzmaurice bemoaned the lack of financial aid provided to parents of third level students.

“I never do look forward to September,” she said. “To be honest, it’s the third level that I worry about the most because the grant doesn’t even cover the bus for the month. I have to fund all of the extra costs such as his (son’s) books and food. He is gone from 8am to 7pm so he would need three meals a day.”

Her sobering words come amid heightening fears surrounding the future of the grants system. Education Minister, Ruairi Quinn plans to change the means test for the third-level grant which could result in farmland and business assets being included for the first time.

Should those changes come into effect, thousands of children from farm families and the self-employed could fall outside the newly drawn up provisions.

Facing an estimated €400 back-to-school bill herself, Samantha said there were numerous other underlying charges for cash strapped parents to agonise over.

“There are other things like shoes, equipment that maybe needed but isn’t highlighed as much. If one of them wants to play football, a kit has to be bought or if my daughter wants to do swimming then she is going to need a swimsuit. They all cost money,” she said.