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Back to school: Managing the cost of education

Published:Sunday | August 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Oran Hall, Personal Financial Adviser

Education is a primary means of coming out of poverty, yet its cost can be a deterrent.

As the children of this country prepare to enter school or return to school, it would be worthwhile to examine how the cost of education can be managed to ease the pressure on parents and improve the children's chances of getting a good education.

The Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC) makes some good suggestions, some of which I will share.

Regarding school uniforms, it is not absolutely necessary to purchase new ones if those in use are in good condition. Perhaps, the new school-year-feel can be introduced by starting the year with a new uniform, but older ones can be used thereafter.

If it is not compulsory to purchase uniforms from sources with which the school has arrangements to supply them. The opportunity can be seized to shop around for the best price. Children do not have to wear ready-made uniforms as these can be made by dressmakers and tailors.

This option can be inconvenient and time-consuming but economical. It is also more risky so attention has to be paid to the material purchased to ensure that it is not damaged and meets the specifications set by the school.

Impulse shopping

The CAC also recommends that impulse shopping should be avoided and that receipts should be collected in case the need for a refund arises. Shoppers should pay careful attention to the quality, condition, comfort and durability of shoes and less attention to 'name brands', but should pay attention to the guidelines of the school, especially in regard to colour and style.

With respect to books, hardcover note books are more suitable because they last longer. Shoppers should ensure they purchase the correct books and should pay keen attention to the edition, author and publisher's name to reduce the risk of making more than one trip to the store.

Are second-hand books available these days, or do book lists change so frequently it is not possible to source books used previously by older relatives and acquaintances? If they are available and are in good condition, they would be more economical than new books.

Beyond the recommendations of the CAC, here are some other suggestions.

Auxiliary fees

With respect to auxiliary fees, which fund the cost of identification cards, medical, computer laboratories, and extra-curricular activities, including the stipends of coaches, some schools allow for payments to be made in tranches. Where such arrangements exist, it would be prudent to use them to make payment less burdensome.

Students should make full use of the book rental system, which in reality does not cost them or their parents but they should make every effort to take the very best care of the books made available to them.

Many students in the school system are on the PATH programme and thus have access to at least one cooked meal each school day. Parents whose children qualify should register. In Kingston and St Andrew, the office is located at 108 Harbour Street, and in the other parishes, in the parish capital.

Students should not hesitate to bring to the attention of their guidance counsellors any serious financial challenges they are having, including meeting the cost of their external examinations, so that measures can be put in place to help relieve these difficulties.

Transportation

To minimise the cost of transportation, students are advised to get the JUTC Smarter Card to benefit from concessionary fares.

Parents should help their children to understand that education is a costly but a very valuable investment on which they should strive to make a good return, and should themselves take a keen interest in the progress of their offspring.

As much as possible, they should use every opportunity to teach and model good savings practices.

My wish is that our boys and girls seize every opportunity to be educated, financial and other challenges notwithstanding.

Oran A. Hall, principal author of The Handbook of Personal Financial Planning, offers free personal financial planning advice and counsel.finviser.jm@gmail.com