January savings: 5 ways to cut back on your household bills

More of us should shop around for better value energy and mortgage rates

Switch it up for savings in the new year. Photograph: Getty

Switch it up for savings in the new year. Photograph: Getty

 

How would you like to save €5,000 over the next 12 months? Sounds pretty good right? That was the carrot dangled in front of people by the price comparison website bonkers.ie last week. It carried out an analysis of common household bills and suggested that by switching everything from bank loans to electricity providers, consumers could make massive savings. By switching mortgage provider, a typical homeowner could save an average of between €200 and €300 a month. Changing energy supplier can yield savings of €267 a year, while signing up for better-value broadband and TV packages could see a person saving as much as €500 a year.

Consumers who switch their current account could knock around €150 off their annual banking bill while shopping around for health insurance can deliver savings of €500 a year or more, and switching mortgage insurance can save a not-too-shabby €120 a year.

“Come January it can always be a bit of a struggle trying to make ends meet,” says Daragh Cassidy, of the price comparison website. “Yet every year people make things harder for themselves by paying more than they need to for their household bills.”

Switching mortgage from one bank to another can deliver big savings – as long as you are not on a precious tracker

Bonkers might make it seem easy, but the vast majority of consumers aren’t buying it.

Figures show that switching levels across the banking industry for example remain chronically low less at than one per cent. More than 70 per cent of people have never shopped around for better-value health insurance, and a similar number have never even considered making the big switch when it comes to electricity, gas and broadband.

While switching mortgage from one bank to another can deliver big savings – as long as you are not on a precious tracker – it can also be difficult, which explains why so few people bother with it. They have no such excuse when it comes to other areas however.

Switching gas or electricity supplier is quick and easy and can be done online, and saving money on broadband and TV can be done in less time than it takes to watch the Big Bang Theory on Netflix.

But where to start? The first thing anyone should do is to work out exactly where their money is going each month. Go through all the products and establish whether or not they represent the best value for money. If they don’t, swap them for a product that is better value.

Energy

As many as 85 per cent of Irish people pay the standard tariffs for both electricity and gas, and are, as a result, paying hundreds of euro more than they need to. While the companies shout loudly about the discounts they have on offer, the offers only ever stay in place for a year which means that, to avail of them, people have to make the switch every year.

Moving provider is easy and – unlike switching cornflakes or health insurance – the end product is identical with the only difference being price. All you need to make the switch are copies of your most recent gas or electricity bill, or both if you’re a dual fuel customer. You also need your Gas Point Reference Number (GPRN) or Meter Point Reference Number (MPRN), which help energy suppliers identify your property. These numbers are on your bills. And finally you need a current gas and/or electricity meter reading, so your old supplier can provide you with a final bill and your new supplier can start from that point.

Turning the thermostat down by one degree will reduce heating energy consumption by up to 10 per cent

It is not all about switching, however. Clued-in homeowners can knock at least 10 per cent off their annual energy bill by making a few other changes and with the average energy cost for an Irish household coming to about €2,000, this could amount to savings of €200 a year.

Turning the thermostat down by one degree will reduce heating energy consumption by up to 10 per cent while the amount of power that simply drains away because things are left on standby depends on the appliance, but standby can use up to 30 per cent of the power a product needs when turned on fully.

Other elemental steps to cut your energy costs include cooking more than one item at a time to make your oven more efficient and avoid opening the oven door while cooking as 20 per cent of the heat escapes every time you do.

Put lids on pots boiling on your stove and always turn down the heat when water starts to boil. Defrost your fridge or freezer every six months, service your boiler once a year and only ever use your dishwasher at lower temperatures.

Health insurance

Anyone who has not reviewed their health insurance in the past three years is spending more than necessary. When renewal time comes – and for many it will come at the end of this month – call your existing insurers and ask for the closest equivalent plan to what they have now. Insist that all their company’s plans are explored. If they come back with a plan that costs €100 less, ask if it is the best-value plan. Calls are being recorded, so they have to say yes or no and they have to answer truthfully.

At that point, they might say they will post the details, but they should be kept on the phone and made to explain the details of the new plan and how it differs from the old one.

You must have a tv licence if you have a box in your house capable of receiving broadcasts, but if you stream tv on a laptop, tablet or monitor then you don’t have to

If you are on a budget of, say, €800, you should ring and ask for the best-value plan for that amount. Always put the onus on the company to find the best value and to explain exactly what the plan does. Remember companies can’t pry into your health conditions and as long as you are getting the same level of cover as you already have, there are no waiting periods to deal with.

Phones

There is a lot of money wasted on phones and people need to make sure they are on the right plan for their usage habits. There is no point paying a lot for data if you don’t use much or you download everything using your wifi. Top-of-the-range smartphones now cost more than €700, a very high price. Consider buying a phone from two years ago; the pace of change has slowed, and there is not much difference except for the price. If you can buy a handset outright for less than €300 and go for a 30-day contract or a pre-pay sim, you will save money and improve flexibility.

Television

Many people who pay big money for their television habits will not be getting good value for money. The cost of a package that includes broadband, a landline and a television service offering more than 100 channels runs to around €100 each month. Were you to axe the television part alone you could save around €500 every year.

And what would you miss? Not a whole lot if you already have Netflix or Now TV or both. A smart TV will come with players from RTÉ and TV3 – or VMT as it is now called – on its home screen so you would be covered domestically. The All4 app gives access to Channel 4 and E4 content and you could use a virtual private network (VPN) to get free access to the BBC channels on the television.

You must have a €160 licence if you have a box in your house that is capable of receiving broadcast signals, but if you stream television on a laptop or a tablet or a monitor without a television tuner – as long as it is not hooked up to Vodafone TV or Eir Vision – then you don’t have to pay a licence fee.

Other streaming services can be accessed via an Android box, which typically cost about €100 although many such services are in a legally grey area and streams can be flaky and disappear in the blink of an eye. And of course there is Saorview, the national digital terrestrial television service. To get the service you just connect a suitable aerial to your Saorview-approved TV and tune in to all the free-to-air Irish channels, and, depending on the box, free access to all the UK free-to-air channels too.

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