State school cash requests revealed

Embargoed to 0001 Thursday December 12File photo dated 18/03/13 of money as the UK downturn is finally expected to be left behind next year as the size of the economy surpasses its pre-recession peak, according to a new forecast upgrading prospects for growth. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday December 12, 2013. The prediction from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) brings forward the likely date to the third quarter of 2014. It would mark the first time that UK gross domestic product (GDP) has climbed back to the peak it reached in the first quarter of 2008. See PA story ECONOMY GDP. Photo credit should read: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire

%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%State schools are asking parents to hand over cash for everything from books and tablets to building projects, according to a poll.

It suggests that the vast majority of parents (95.8%) have been asked to contribute money to their child's school.
Of those that had been asked for money, nearly half (45.3%) had been asked between two and five times in a year and a third (32.2%) had been asked between five and 10 times.

Netmums, the parenting website which commissioned the survey, claimed that families are spending an average of £200 a year in donations and additional costs off each child educated at a state school.

This figure is based on a Netmums analysis of the figures showing that mother and fathers spent an average of £100 a year on direct donations to their child's school for items such as sponsorship for charity events and new building projects and a further £100 on average on costs such as costumes for school plays, text books and uniforms.

The survey findings show that more than nine in 10 parents (91.2%) were asked to pay for day trips and school outings, while a third of those questioned (34%) said they had been asked for money for swimming lessons.

Just under one in five (18.1%) said money had been requested for school IT equipment, one in four (27%) had been asked to pay for books and around one in eight (12.3%) said they had been asked to buy a tablet computer or similar for their child.

Around 16.5% of those surveyed said their school had asked them to help pay for new building projects, the poll claims, and a similar proportion (16.4%) had been asked for donations towards the upkeep of buildings.

Parents had also been asked for money for items including goods that children had designed, like tea towels and cards, fundraising events and residential trips.

Just over one in four (28.2%) of the state school parents questioned said that they struggle to afford the extra costs and have had to cut back in other areas while a further 6.5% said that they cannot afford it and their child had missed out on something.

Netmums co-founder Siobhan Freegard said: "State schools are certainly not free, as parents are paying out hundreds of pounds a year each to support them.

"Parents around the UK are doing their very best to prop up falling budgets but with many more mums out at work and overstretched family finances many simply don't have the time or the money to do all they would like."

:: The poll questioned 1,577 parents including 1,337 with children at state school in February.

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State school cash requests revealed
Mortgage rates are low at the moment, but even if you feel that your mortgage is a pretty good deal already, for a lot of borrowers there are better rates to be had. It's crucial to get the sums right – high upfront admin costs from a new lender or large early repayment fees from your existing mortgage provider could wipe out any savings. But, says David Hollingworth of brokers London & Country: "If you have an average standard variable rate (SVR) of 4.75%, a borrower with a £150,000 repayment mortgage over 20 years would pay £969.34 each month. Switching to a two-year fix with Norwich & Peterborough BS at 1.99% with £295 fee, free valuation and free legal work for remortgage would cut the payment to £758.11 a month, saving £211.23p.m." Over a year, that would mean a saving of £2,240, even with a £295 up front fee, and £2535 in following years.
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With today's high cost of fuel, running a car is an expensive business. For a lot of people, particularly where public transport is sparse, giving up a car altogether is too big a challenge. But perhaps you could use it less, and take steps to bring down the cost of driving when it's unavoidable. The Energy Saving Trust says that just keeping your tyres pumped up correctly can save £31 a year, and turning off the air conditioning can save £77. Follow all the advice on the Energy Saving Trust's app, such as lift sharing and keeping your speed down, and the organisation claims you could save as much as £554 a year for a medium car covering medium mileage.
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According to the NHS, most people who quit smoking save almost £2,000 a year. On top of that you get to feel healthier. What's not to love?
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Or at least, make your own. If you work in a town or city, the temptation to pop in and get a coffee can be strong. There's something comforting about sipping a hot coffee from those nice warm paper cups as you gear up for the working day. But if you stop to add up what it costs (including the cup), it may leave you cold. A Starbucks medium (OK, tall) latte costs £2.60 on the Strand in London. If you have one of those five days a week, 46 weeks a year (allowing for four weeks holiday), that means you are spending close to £600 – a tall price for a caffeine fix. If you make your own, a Bodum coffee maker costs £20 and a kilo of coffee costs around £13 and will make roughly 120 – 140. Missing the cup for the walk to work? Buy a Thermos mug for around £10. For £43, plus the price of milk, you can have coffee on the go all year round.
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It's a familiar scenario for many well-intentioned would-be gym bunnies. You sign up super motivated. You buy new workout gear, perhaps you work out regularly at the start. But then something – a holiday, a nasty cold, late nights at work – breaks your momentum and you stop going to the gym. Eventually your workout clothes lounge around in the cupboard while the gym keeps your bank balance trim by taking that direct debit each month. Gym memberships vary, but if you pay £80 a month for full membership, that's £960 a year's worth of good intentions. Invest in some proper running shoes – you can spend a fortune but specialist shop Run and Become has decent shoes for £50 – and hit the road. Need motivation? Download a free app such as Couch to 5k to get you started and track your progress as you get fitter.
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The range of mobile tariffs can be baffling. Many people end up on the wrong deal, perhaps paying for call time or extras they don't really need or use. There are a number of online tools and apps you can use to check your bill is not too high, such as Billmonitor and Mobilife. Enter your existing details and see if you could save money. In 2012, Billmonitor reckoned 26 million consumers in Britain were paying over the odds by as much as £164. The savings you could make will vary hugely, but it's certainly worth taking a look to see what you could save.

Apps like Viber and Whats App are also worth a mention as they allow you to text and call (Viber only) other users for free who have the apps on their smartphones. Whats App has ayearly subscription fee of around 65p, but the only other cost is the data on your smartphone plan if you're using 3G.

And when it comes to your broadband and home phone, it pays to find out if you are on the best deal. Dominic Baliszewski, telecoms expert at says: "Our own analysis has highlighted time and time again that a high proportion of customers do not actually switch broadband regularly enough to benefit from better pricing, which is crazy when you consider that switching can save you over £200 from your annual bill. Switching levels for broadband are woefully low when compared with energy or insurance services."
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In the UK, households throw away an estimated 25 meals each month, worth a total of £60 a month or £720 each year. Avoid buying too much food, even when it seems like you are saving money. Try not to 'take advantage' of bulk buy deals you may not use, make good use of your freezer for fresh foods rather than putting them in the fridge and forgetting them, and change a few of your shopping and eating habits and you may save money.

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You might not be able to pay your credit card off straight away, but you can cut the cost. If your credit card has a rate of 18.9% and you have a balance of £5,000, then you could save £472 by doing a balance transfer to a credit card with a 0% introductory deal for the first six months.
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