Household incomes across Northern Ireland have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and during this time of economic instability low-income families may struggle to make ends meet, with many feeling pressured to turn to expensive payday loans or home lenders for loans they may not be able to afford to repay.
As September approaches, the added pressure of back-to-school costs will put many low-income families in financial difficulty. A survey by the Irish League of Credit Unions this year* found that more than a third of parents in Northern Ireland are going into debt to cover back-to-school costs, with parents spending an average of £1,034 per secondary school child .
The survey found that the most expensive item this year for primary and secondary was school uniforms at £126 for primary, a decrease of £5 from 2020 and £181 for secondary, a £4 increase.
NI Advice and our members across Northern Ireland are here to help you with free, impartial and confidential debt advice and we can help families who may be struggling financially or who need help managing their debts. It is important that people realize that they are not alone.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of back-to-school budgeting tips that might come in handy.
Find out what help you may be entitled to
It is important to understand what you are entitled to, for example, subsidies for free school meals, school uniforms and PE clothing are available from the School Authority for families receiving Universal Credit or certain benefits. This year, parents could also benefit from a food grant for the summer holidays. To request it, you can Click here.
To learn more about the help you may be eligible for, contact Advice NI for a free, confidential benefit entitlement check that can help you find out if you are eligible for tax credits, child allowances, childcare costs and more.
Create a family budget
If you don’t have a family budget yet, try creating one.
You can start by calculating your income and expenses, to ensure an accurate reflection of your actual expenses from month to month. Once this has been established, try to reduce your expenses by implementing money-saving measures like searching for deals, canceling unnecessary direct debits, and taking advantage of supermarket loyalty programs.
You can also cut costs in other ways. Try to save fuel by walking to school or in association with other parents, prepare cost-effective packed lunches and get school supplies such as school supplies from cheaper stores or in bulk.
Take advantage of local uniform exchanges
Families in Northern Ireland can take advantage of local school uniform exchanges, to reduce the financial burden that education costs can place on households.
Parents can donate uniform items that are still in good condition, such as sweaters, blazers and shirts, so that other families can use them during the next school year. Parents in need can also choose to pick up the items they need at designated drop-off and collection points. These exchanges are a fantastic way for families to reduce expenses and avoid getting worse.
To find a uniform exchange system in your area, contact your local school, counseling center, community center, or family center.
Other self-help guides, tools and resources on a better money manager can be found at Tips on the NI website.
Remember, if you find yourself struggling with back-to-school expenses and are concerned about managing your debt, you don’t have to deal with it alone. You can contact Advice NI by calling the freephone helpline on 0800 915 4604 to speak directly to an adviser between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday. You can browse our website, www.adviceni.net/debt for full details of the service, including contact details and locations of money and debt advisers in your area.
Advice NI and the Independent Advice Network have 69 members and over 300 advisers across Northern Ireland, providing free and confidential advice to individuals and businesses. To access Advice NI’s money and debt advice and free your future, call 0800 915 4604 or visit www.adviceni.net. To find an advice center in your area, simply visit www.adviceni.net/advice/local.
*Data from: https://www.creditunion.ie/news/latest-news/back-to-school-costs-are-a-financial-burden-for-no/
To get the last break do ws in your inbox, subscribe to our free newsletter here.