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EDUCATION

Back to school in Italy: how much will it cost, and how can you save money?

With Italy’s schools reopening in September, parents are beginning the annual rush to stock up on essential supplies. New figures reveal families will have to shell out more this year.

Italian pupils in front of an elementary school.
As Italian pupils prepare to file back into the classroom, families are dealing with the purchase of school supplies and textbooks. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

As the last families return to their homes at the tail-end of the so-called grande rientro, Italian pupils are preparing to file back into the classroom for the start of the 2022/2023 school year. 

For those who aren’t too familiar with the Italian education system, all public schools are managed by regional authorities, meaning return dates generally vary by region.

READ ALSO: Explained: What are Italy’s Covid rules for schools in September?

For instance, this time around, back-to-school dates will range from September 5th to September 19th, with children from Trentino-Alto Adige being the first back in front of the blackboard. (See all the dates here).

Regardless of the dates pupils are expected back at their desks, the purchase of school supplies and textbooks is going to deal many Italian families a harder economic blow this year.

According to estimates from Italian consumer association Codacons, the prices of regular school supplies (backpacks, notebooks, pencil cases, stationery, etc.) have increased by as much as seven percent compared to last year. 

Prices, Codacons explains, have been mainly driven up by “greater energy costs for manufacturers” and “higher transportation fees” associated with the European fuel crisis. 

Students outside the Italo Calvino Institute in Turin, Italy.

Backpacks are the most expensive item in the back-to-school shopping list, with some branded articles going for as much as 200 euros. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

So how much should Italian families prepare to shell out?

According to Codacons, expenses for school supplies alone might add up to a whopping 588 euros per student

As usual, the most expensive item on the back-to-school list is the backpack, with some brand-name articles currently going for as much as 200 euros.

READ ALSO: Why Italians have a hard time learning English – and how things could improve

Significant expenses are also required for pencil cases or pouches (branded items may go for as much as 60 euros) and school diaries (around 30 euros for the most sought-after brands). 

On top of the above-mentioned school supplies (corredo scolastico in Italian), families will also have to pay for textbooks. 

While elementary school textbooks are supplied free of charge across the entire country, costs for middle school (scuola media) or high school (scuola superiore) textbooks generally fall between 300 and 600 euros, with prices largely varying according to the year and school children happen to be in. 

All in all then, Codacons estimates that the purchase of school supplies, textbooks and technical items (set triangles, compasses, goniometers, etc.) might set Italian families back as much as 1,300 euros per student this time around. 

However, as the prospect of this year’s back-to-school stangata (financial blow) gives rise to some much-justified concern among parents, Codacons and other consumer groups such as Altroconsumo and Tuttoscuola have already provided families with some useful advice on how to save up on both supplies and textbooks.

How to save money on school supplies

  • Avoid branded items. Children are easily influenced by TV and/or online ads and might push to get the most popular and fashionable articles on the market. However, off-brand items generally have the same features and durability as their more well-known counterparts and might go for 40 percent less.
  • Buy from a local supermarket rather than a stationery shop. At this time of the year, many supermarket chains offer very favourable deals on school kits, with prices being sometimes 30 percent lower than in specialist shops.
  • Don’t buy everything at once. Any item that is not immediately necessary can be bought at a later stage.
  • Wait for teachers’ guidelines, especially when it comes to buying material for art or geometry classes. Knowing exactly what items are required will save you from spending money on wrong or unnecessary articles.

A student completing a written test.

Italian consumer groups have advised families to avoid branded items when it comes to purchasing school supplies. Photo by Olivier CHASSIGNOLE / AFP

How to save money on textbooks

  • Buy second-hand textbooks. Purchasing libri usati might allow you to save up to 50 percent on school books. However, it’s usually best to check the state of the items – especially their exercise pages – prior to buying. Also, keep in mind that past editions might no longer be accepted.
  • Loan textbooks directly from the school. Not all institutes do this but some allow for various forms of comodato d’uso whereby families can loan textbooks for the entire length of the school year and then return them when classes end in June.
  • Look out for financial incentives. All schools set aside a budget to help low-income families with the purchase of textbooks. Incentives usually come in the forms of vouchers partly covering the price of the required items. Vouchers are allocated on the basis of a household’s economic situation, which in Italy is calculated as ISEE (Equivalent Financial Position Indicator or Indicatore della Situazione Economica Equivalente).
  • Shop online or in supermarkets. Some supermarkets and online marketplaces sell textbooks at favourable prices, with discounts usually ranging between 10 and 20 percent.
  • Buy digital textbooks. Again, not all schools allow this but in some institutes families have the option to buy the required set of textbooks in digital form. Students can then access the books via a pc, tablet or e-reader.

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For members

ENERGY

EXPLAINED: How much are energy bills rising in Italy?

Energy costs are rising in Italy - but just how high could they go? The Local looks at how residents and businesses are being affected by soaring bills.

EXPLAINED: How much are energy bills rising in Italy?

People in Italy are receiving bills this week for energy use in recent months – and they’re even higher than many people expected, leading to concerns about further increases over the coming winter.

Gas and electricity prices in Italy have soared in recent months, as Europe continues to be buffeted by a volatile energy market in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Italy is particularly dependent on Russian gas, importing 95 percent of the gas it consumes, of which around 40 percent comes from Russia.

As a result, bills are rising at an alarming rate – and so far a series of government measures aimed at offsetting the costs have provided only a very thin cushion.

Families are currently paying approximately 70-80 percent more for gas than they did a year ago, according to an August report for the trade publication Qualenergia.it – raising the roughly €1,700-1,800 the average household would spend in a normal year to around €2,900-€3,240 this year.

But with Europe’s energy crisis showing no signs of abating, prices seem set to rise even higher than this.

Residents across Italy have reported seeing their gas and electricity bills for the second quarter of 2022 double or even triple compared to the same period last year.

READ ALSO

“Ours is usually €90 for our apartment, there’s 3 of us… July was €170,” says Italy resident Kav Kavanagh.

Another foreign resident who didn’t want to be named told The Local his own household energy bills have gone from €190 to €560 for two months of use – and that those for his workplace have risen tenfold, so that his employers have had to request rateizzazione (payment in instalments).

“So far we’re keeping our neck above water, so to speak, and had to up our prices by 30 percent, and unfortunately diminish our staff, therefore our service quality has gone down and unfortunately customers aren’t as understanding as of yet,” he said.

Prices are predicted to double again from October, says Qualenergia.it, as the cost of gas on the Amsterdam stock exchange rose from €84/Mwh at the start of July to more than €109/Mwh at the start of August.

Gas prices overall have risen more than tenfold in the last year, from around €27/Mwh in August 2021 to an eye-watering – and record-breaking – spike of €341/Mwh at the end of August 2022.

These increases mean Italian businesses are forecast to pay at least €106 billion more in 2022 than in previous years, according to a recent estimate from the Italian small and medium sized business federation CGIA.

The hikes have led to demonstrations from desperate business owners and local efforts from small companies and public administrations to cut costs by closing offices and reducing opening hours.

The French government has published guidelines on what to do if you are struggling to pay your energy bills.
Gas prices have increased by more than 1,000 percent in the past year. Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

Earlier this week, members of the Confcommercio business association in Perugia staged a protest against the soaring costs by burning their energy bills in a city centre piazza.

In June, the town council for Fluminimaggiore in southern Sardinia trialled shutting off its energy supply over the Republic Day bank holiday weekend – while remaining open for essential services – to save on costs.

Some consumers on fixed-rate energy contracts have so far been shielded from the increases, but that could soon be set to change.

One resident on such a contract reported receiving a letter from their energy company in June “proposing a contractual amendment” that would see their bill tied to national stock exchange gas prices from the start of December, and inviting them to sign a new contract if they didn’t want to accept the change.

READ ALSO

Italy on Tuesday announced new energy-saving rules designed to cut costs, including restricting thermostats in business premises to a maximum temperature of 19C over the winter and reducing the time the heating can be on by one hour a day and 15 days across the year.

The government has signed off on a series of aid packages over the course of the year aimed at buffering some of the shock, and new aid bill is currently under discussion.

For Italian residents and businesses, help can’t come soon enough.

“The combination of expensive energy and the increase in the cost of raw materials has brought about the perfect storm that we feared,” the Lazio general secretary for CISL, the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions, told the local news outlet Ciociaria Editoriale Oggi last week.

“Urgent and substantial interventions are needed, to save income and wages, businesses and jobs.”

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