Back to school costs - MABS say don't wait until you get into trouble
Parents don't need to wait until they are in financial difficulty before they seek advice regarding school expenses.
This is the message that Money Advice Coordinator with Wexford MABS Nicky Rossiter wants to convey to the people of Wexford.
MABS offer financial advice to people from all backgrounds and began their back to school campaign in June. They offer parents in various situations advice on how to cut education costs, and steer those who need extra assistance in the right direction.
'We're not just about getting people out of trouble. We are about stopping people from getting into trouble in the first place,' said Mr Rossiter.
Mr Rossiter said that one of the first things that they do is encourage people to apply for any allowances that they are eligible for, saying that it can provide some relief for parents struggling to make ends meet in the face of a new school year.
'The allowances aren't near enough unfortunately but it helps a bit. Some schools are not as expensive and in those cases, it can go a long way,' he said.
Measures can be taken to reduce the cost of school supplies according to Mr Rossiter, who said that MABS can offer some tips to parents facing a hefty bill.
'You need to look at what you have to get. For things like copies and pencils, they should look to the pound shops or buy in bulk with friends and relations. Substantial savings can be made,' he said. 'In terms of uniforms, there is a bit of a stigma surrounding buying second-hand ones and those in charity shops. Irish people in particular seem to think that when they buy in charity shops, they are the charity whereas in fact, they are being generous to the people who are being supported by that charity. This is a mindset that needs to change.'
Voluntary contributions crop up in almost every school across the country and something that can pile more pressure on already cashstrapped parents. Mr Rossiter said that parents shouldn't be afraid to speak to the school principal about their concerns.
'As difficult as it may seem to talk to principals, it can be done. The rules come from the boards at the end of the day. It's not that principals are trying to get money from parents,' he said.
'If there is a reasonable amount that a parent cannot pay, they should just talk to them. If they are embarrassed about it, perhaps they could arrange to let the child bring in an empty envelope or maybe even one with less money in it.'
Mr Rossiter acknowledged that, even through taking these measures, educational costs can be a hardship for parents. He said that, in dire cases, people should seek the support of St Vincent de Paul or in some scenarios, seek a loan.
'We would never send anyone into credit unless they understood it,' said Mr Rossiter. 'If things get very tight and people know how to use a bit of credit, some loans might be worth considering.'
Although they are available to provide financial advice to people in any situation, MABS usually only receive calls from those who are in trouble. Mr Rossiter said that they sometimes receive calls from people who are struggling to pay bills as their money is going towards school supplies. He advises anyone in this situation to contact their bill provider and explain their circumstances.
'The most important thing to do is talk to who they owe the money to and explain the situation. This is much better than simply just not paying them,' he said.
Discussing their issues with the school itself is another thing that MABS advises.
'People should talk to their boards of management and parents councils if the costs are too high. They are your representatives,' he said. 'If the cost of uniforms is too expensive, use your voice.'