The money, money, money
REALITY CHECK:With next week's Budget looming, Pricewatch editor CONOR POPEhas a few words of advice on positive frugality
Money-saving tips are now ten penny and thousands of books and websites have been written by self-styled financial gurus promising to help us to keep our heads above choppy financial waters. But as the recession deepens and corners get repeatedly cut, the ways to save get harder and “experts” veer into territory that is quite ridiculous.
One book that has crossed the Pricewatch desk suggests people have their teeth fixed on the cheap by trainee dentists or sign up for medical trials to get free – albeit potentially useless – drugs. Another advises us to become pally with pilots for low-cost jaunts abroad (try this with Ryanair crews and see how far you get) or wear flip-flops year-round to save money on socks.
That’s not even the most outlandish notion. A third book recommends people hang a dead bird from a tree in their garden to scare living birds away from the fruit and vegetables that will – obviously – be growing there because the reader is so serious about this moneysaving, um, lark. Other penny-pinching gems would see seasoned scrimpers refrigerating tights to stop them laddering, using egg white as a glue replacement and beeswax as cheap chewing-gum.
These ideas might work but they will definitely make life miserable. But spending less doesn’t have to mean misery. Most of us have no choice but to explore frugality and find ways to do things on the cheap. Or not do them at all.
But are there ways to cut costs that you’ve not already thought of? A couple of weeks ago we took to Twitter and asked users for their favourite money-saving ideas. Within an hour we had more than 100 top tips but the silver bullet needed to kill the debt monster was missing. Yes, you can mix water and bleach in a spray dispenser for a low-cost kitchen cleaner, bring sandwiches to work, give up takeaway coffee, freeze your credit card but such measures will not do much to clear a mountain of debt.
The reality is that most Irish people have already twigged what needs to be done and are doing it. This is evident in our supermarkets where the switch to own-brand products has been profound. Sales of what used to be called yellow pack goods are up by nearly 400 per cent in five years and it’s easy to see why. Two litres of own-brand milk costs €1.49 while branded equivalents costs 50 cent more. If a family uses just two litres of milk daily they save €182.50 every year by making that one switch.
It is not just in the grocery sector where habits have changed. The second-hand clothes market is booming. Shops that rent high-end frocks for bargain basement prices are popular, and rail sales, which allow fashionistas sell clothes at pop-up flea markets, are taking off, as are consignment stores and swap shops.
The online space, meanwhile, is making saving money easier than ever. There are price comparison websites to find cheaper holidays and insurance, apps for better budgeting and websites showing the cash-strapped how to eat for peanuts. If you type “how to save money” into Google you get 137 million matches.