Pricewatch: Spend less and get more out of summer
Take a picnic rather than visiting a restaurant, make use of free attractions and museums
Dublin Zoo offers endless entertainment, so consider an annual membership. Photograph: Patrick Bolger
Summer is here. Finally. Or at least it was back when Pricewatch was locked in a basement writing these words and staring sadly out at people walking around in varying states of undress.
You would have to be miserable not to welcome a bit of sunshine, but an Irish summer comes at a cost, what with all the holidays, kids camps, ice-creams, suncreams, barbecues and the like. So we thought we would look at some of the ways you can get the most out of the days ahead without spending a fortune.
Don’t be bedazzled by brand names when it comes to sunscreen. Own-brand alternatives are just as good – and sometimes much better – than well-known labels. And they are also a whole lot cheaper. An own-brand option will cost around a fiver but you could pay more than twice that for many better-known brands. And don’t take our word for it. Earlier this summer, British consumer group Which? tested 11 widely available sunscreens to see if they offered the SPF30 they claimed. Some leading brands failed miserably, whereas cheaper options from Aldi and Lidl passed.
Use it up
Speaking of suncream, don’t buy any until you see what you have left over from last year. Typically an open bottle lasts up to two years – but remember to check the “period after opening” number on the bottle to be sure – it should say 24 months. If it says 12 months and you bought it last May, you probably shouldn’t risk it.
Go back to coupons
Remember all those online coupon services such as Living Social and Groupon you signed up for a couple of years ago? You know, the emails you started ignoring because you grew tired of being offered discounted divorces and teeth whitening? Now might be a good time to revisit them. And keep an eye on activity discounts. When you see a bargain, buy, stow it away and redeem it over the course of the summer. Check the terms and conditions and redemption periods, particularly if you are buying weather-dependent activities.
Al fresco dining
Restaurants have their place but it’s not at the summer money-saving table. When it comes to cheap eats, it is impossible to beat a picnic, once you can find a bit of green space. An average lunch for an average family of two adults and two children in a restaurant will cost about €40. The makings of a picnic for all four will cost a tenner. If you want to make it slightly more elaborate you can buy yourself a disposable barbecue for €8 – they’ll be good enough to cook a packet of sausages, a few burgers and even a steak if you’re feeling flash. And it you want to make it grown up, throw in a bottle of prosecco and off you go. Just don’t have your picnic near where a bunch of kids are drinking flagons of cider – the stress is never worth it, take it from us.
We are not ones for encouraging children to bury their heads in a tablet for the summer, but as sure as rain will ruin the August bank holiday weekend, there will come a time when the kids are looking for something to do. Here are five free apps that are (mostly) more than just mindlessness.
Duolingo: We love this. It offers free, interactive foreign-language education covering at least 21 languages. It is very easy to use, and children older than five and adults older than 75 will benefit from using it.
Scratch/scratch jr: This was designed at MIT to help kids learn programming. Scratch is aimed at children older than seven, and the junior version is intended for ages five and up. The app allows children to develop their own computer games, make art and design apps of their own.
Google Earth: This will help curious children learn geography and astronomy while nosing about the world. You can zoom in and out on any spot on the planet, and you can even travel through the Milky Way.
Minion Rush: Pricewatch downloaded this game more than a year ago and the intended audience are still playing it – when they are allowed.
Free at last
For all our moaning about high prices, Ireland is well-served by free attractions. The National Gallery of Ireland, the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, the Dead Zoo – or the National Museum of Ireland: Archaeology, to give it its real name – on Merrion Street, the Phoenix Park’s Farmleigh and Trinity’s Science Gallery will get you through a couple of highly entertaining days at absolutely no cost. Among the free things Cork has are the public museum in Fitzgerald Park and the splendid Donkey Sanctuary in Liscarroll outside Mallow. Portumna has a great forest park. Why not visit the tourism people’s website, ireland.com, where they have a list of free things you could be doing?
Dublin Zoo is not free, but it is brilliant. It can be pricey unless you approach it the right way. An adult ticket is €17, and a children’s admission is €12.20. A family ticket covering two adults and two children will set you back €47.50. By far the best way to approach it is annual family membership – once you live within striking distance of the place. An individual annual past costs €117 while an annual family pass costs €175. The individual pass allows the pass-holder and an adult or two children to visit while the family pass covers the pass holder and two adults and two children, or the pass holder and up to six children. Visit the zoo just three times over the course of 12 months with a pass and you are saving money.
If you have already booked your holiday overseas, there are also things you can do to save money. Never change money at airports, either at cash desks or at ATMs. You will be ripped off. If you are changing money, shop around. An Post does good deals for major currencies.
The cost of bringing a suitcase on your holiday is ridiculous, particularly if you travel as part of a group. At peak times, the cost of checking in a bag with Aer Lingus is €25 per leg. This means that four people checking in a bag each will have to find an additional €200. If you pack very lightly, you won’t have to pay anything. Lay out everything you think you might need before you pack. Then take away half of it. Don’t pack heavy shoes, towels or suncreams. The latter two you can buy overseas and the first one you don’t need. Flip-flops will do just fine.