Household incomes in 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 look to expensive payday loans or home lenders for loans that they may not be able to afford to repay.
As September approaches, the added pressure of back-to-school fees will put many low-income families under financial stress. A survey by the Irish League of Credit Unions this year * found that more than a third of parents in Northern Ireland are taking on debt to cover back-to-school costs, with parents spending an average of 1,034 Â£ per secondary school pupil.
The survey found the most expensive item this year for primary and secondary were school uniforms at Â£ 126 for primary, a decrease of Â£ 5 from 2020 and Â£ 181 for secondary, an increase from Â£ 4.
NI Advice and our members in Northern Ireland are here to help you with free, unbiased and confidential debt advice and we can help families who may be in financial difficulty or need help managing their debt. 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 may prove helpful.
Find out what help you may be entitled to
It is important to understand what you are entitled to, for example, free school meals, school uniforms and grants for physical education clothing are available from the Education Authority for families receiving universal credit. or certain advantages. This year, parents could also get a food grant for the summer vacation. To request it, you can click here.
To find out more about the help you may be entitled to, contact Advice NI for a free and confidential benefit entitlement check that can help you find out if you are eligible for tax credits, family allowances, benefits. child care expenses 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 spending by implementing money saving measures like finding deals, canceling unnecessary withdrawals, and taking advantage of supermarket loyalty programs.
You can reduce costs in other ways as well. Try to save fuel by walking or clubbing to school with other parents, prepare cost-effective packed lunches, and purchase school supplies such as stationery 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 this coming 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 cut expenses and avoid getting into additional hardships.
To find a uniform exchange program in your area, contact your local school, counseling center, community center, or family center.
Other self-help guides, tools and resources on a better fund manager are available on the Advisory NI website.
Remember, if you find yourself struggling with back-to-school costs and worrying about managing your debt, you don’t have to face it alone. You can contact Advice NI by calling the toll-free helpline on 0800 915 4604 to speak directly to an advisor between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can browse our website, www.adviceni.net/debt for full service details, including contact details and locations of money and debt counselors 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 NI money and debt advice and unlock your future, call 0800 915 4604 or visit www.adviceni.net. To find a counseling center in your area, just 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/
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