Six School Expenses That Didn’t Exist in Your Day

Does it feel like eye-watering sums are required to cover all the ‘Back to School’ essentials from uniforms to schoolbooks? For today’s parents (who attended school in the 70s, 80s and 90s) the list has expanded even further. Check out these modern expenses and take the opportunity to hark “It wasn’t like that in my day” in Six School Expenses That Didn’t Exist in Your Day in association with Zurich Life:

#1. Mobile Phones

Mobile Phones

In 2013, it was revealed in a study by ComReg, that there were more phones than people in Ireland. This takes in regular consumers, businesses and even schoolchildren. Now, think back to your schooldays and try and remember how many of your classmates possessed a mobile phone? (None in mine!)

Of course it was a different time, a time when children could go out and play on the road and might even go unchecked until it was time to come back in for dinner. Nowadays, a mobile phone armed with phone credit is deemed essential by some parents who want their child to be contactable at all times.

Tip: One way of keeping mobile phone costs down for younger students is to buy them a basic handset in primary school, if needed, and restrict smartphone ownership until they reach secondary school.

#2. Smart Devices

Smart Devices

Textbooks and workbooks have long played a central role in back to school costs, but now devices such as tablets are increasingly required in schools right across the country.

However, this doesn’t mean that the expense of traditional books has gone away. As schools continue to get to grips with new learning technologies, the tablet costs sit alongside those of traditional text books until the latter is phased out.

Although it’s possible that tablets will one day permanently replace books and ultimately remove this cost, it’s also possible that advances in technology could lead to parents having to buy more sophisticated and expensive devices.

Tip: Buy secondhand text books wherever possible to keep cost down

#3. Art Supplies

Art Supplies

You might already know that many primary school teachers have to stock up on art supplies for their class out of their own pocket. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that children might have to bring in more than just household items such as pipe cleaners and coloured plastic bags from home like we did in the good old days.

Parents can find themselves making trips to the arts and crafts store to pick-up glitter, coloured card and more. If you have a budding artist on the way into secondary school, you’ll soon learn that all paint brushes and pencils don’t do the same thing and nor are they all the same price!

Tip: Art supplies like Indian Ink, charcoals and sketchbooks make great stocking fillers!

#4. School Trips

School Tours

Do you remember when an exotic school trip was either a day at the Coca-Cola factory, an excursion to a local farm or even a train journey to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum? Travel expenses and a few extra sweets in the lunch box were the only expenses that parents had to worry about back in the 1990s.

School trips nowadays are getting higher in standard and so are the costs. When your child makes the transition to secondary school, it can feel like they’ve been invited to join the UN as numerous letters come in the door offering trips to far off destinations with skiing, exploring and even safari trips on the cards.

The pressure is on for parents who may also be budgeting for family holidays later in the year, but don’t want their child left out or to feel disappointed that they can’t go.

Tip: If you can, put a little away each month towards school trip costs. And talk to your child to discover which trips they would most like to go on and which would be just nice to go on.

#5. Extra-Curricular Activities


It’s fair to say that kids today are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing things to do in their free time. With GAA, golf, water sports, tennis, dance, speech and drama and more available, it’s certainly a long way from kicking a ball against a wall for an afternoon.

While you’re busy nurturing the talents of your young stars of the future, the costs mount up with memberships, equipment and match fees all part of the package. It’s obviously important to let your children try things out in the hope that they find an activity that they’re passionate about.

However, with all costs considered, you can be forgiven for hoping you don’t have a jack of all trades in your house but rather a master of one!

Tip: There is still nothing wrong with your child kicking a ball against the wall with their friends for an afternoon! So encourage free fun where possible to help keep costs down too.

#6. Voluntary Contributions


While it may have existed in some form or another in some schools in the 1990s, the so-called ‘voluntary contribution’ is a sore point for many families that are trying to balance the budget at the end of August each year.

Public schools are not permitted to allocate school places based on whether or not parents have paid the voluntary contribution. Having said this, it’s understandable that parents can feel under pressure if they are unable to pay.

Media reports have described how some parents have felt anxious when they receive a reminder notice from the school. Some families can end up paying between €150 – €200 per year with this fee on top of their back to school costs.

Parents of school children today might be surprised to see the figures for the cost of education in Ireland, but don’t worry it’s not too late to start saving for third level education for your child now.

Tip: Ask your school if you can pay the voluntary contribution over time if you are struggling to pay the full amount in one go.

Zurich Life is running a competition on social media, giving you the chance to win your Back to School shopping list. To enter, share your most vivid school memory with Zurich Life on Facebook or Twitter and include the hashtag #inmyday. Go to or to Twitter and follow @ZurichLife to enter.

*Zurich Life Assurance plc is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.

Did we miss any school expenses that your family is facing that you didn’t have when you were at school? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below or on our social media channels.

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Jill is one of the co-founders of Mykidstime and a mum of 2 girls