Sixteen ways to spend less, save more and still help local businesses
Pricewatch: Set yourself up for a better year than 2020, financially speaking at least
Do an inventory of your direct debits to see where might be able to save money. Photograph: iStock
We have at last seen the back of 2020 and all we can do is hope that the year ahead won’t be a bad as the one just past. In a normal year on a day like today many of us would be nursing hangovers – either physical, mental or financial ( or all three) –after a season of booze-fuelled partying.
But, to use a phrase that we hope to never have to use again, the festive season just past was “a different kind of Christmas” and the chances of wild partying and excessive spending on booze, taxies, meals out and fancy clothes were somewhat curtailed.
But while you might find yourself with more money in your pocket or less debt accumulated as a result of Covid-related restrictions that doesn’t mean you should let the first days of 2021 pass without looking at ways you could tidy up your spending habits, spend a little differently, improve your finances and maybe help some of the businesses in your neighbourhood into the bargain.
Here are 16 suggestions to get you started.
1 Living la vida local
One of the most heartening things to emerge from the pandemic has been the clear desire amongst many Irish people to shop local. Small green grocers, butchers, bakers and candle-stick makers have all benefited from consumers’ re-discovered sense of social solidarity. The next six months will be as tough – if not tougher – for many retailers, hotels, travel agents, restaurants and small and medium-sized businesses so whatever money you have to spend, look to spend it close to home.
2 Plan your escape
Start planning your holiday, but do it carefully. Now, given the horrendous experience many thousands of Irish people had cancelling, rebooking and then cancelling trips abroad in 2020, we are not suggesting you run out and pay for a trip to Magaluf today, you can at least start looking forward. Bear in mind that while low-cost airlines and the internet have made DIY holidays in even the most exotic of locations easier to organise than at any point in history, question marks hang over whether consumers are getting better value by going it alone as opposed to booking with tour operators or travel agents.
Late last year the consumer watchdog Which? released an extensive piece of research attempting to answer that question, and it suggests that package holidays are likely to work out considerably cheaper than DIY bookings to the same destination. Not only that but they also offer much greater protection if a trip is affected by coronavirus or another disruption. The research was focused on the UK and includes holidays departing from Belfast but no other Irish airport, but based on analysis by The Irish Times, the same rules apply for the wider market on this island. And apart from anything else, the locally based travel agents could really do with some support this year.
3 Stay and spend
And staying with holidays, maybe you might look to plan something earlier in the year at home too? While the so-called stay-and-spend scheme, which was announced as part of the July stimulus package and rolled out formally last October was a victim of the pandemic and the second lockdown, with some luck it might still afford people the chance to enjoy more of what Ireland’s hospitality sector has to offer in the months ahead. If used wisely and quickly then a canny couple or family with a keen eye on the price will be able to save themselves hundreds of euro on meals out and mini-breaks away from home while also supporting one of the most hard-hit sectors in our society.
Under the scheme, people are being encouraged to spend money across the hospitality sector over the winter and spring and if they do so they will get 20 per cent of what they hand over in restaurants, pubs, hotels and other businesses between now and April back in the form of income tax credits. The value of the tax credits has been capped at €125 so Stay and Spend will stop having any benefit to consumers once a ceiling of €625 has been reached. Mind you, a qualifying couple who both pay tax will be able to get tax credits worth €250 as long as they spend €1,250. People will also have to spend at least €25 for any transaction to be counted towards the total and only non-alcoholic drinks and food will be covered in restaurants.
4 Pocket €2,000 in a year
While shopping local is vital now more than ever, there will always be a role for the supermarket. Maybe you could mix it up a bit this month? According to December’s figures from retail analysts Kantar Worldpanel, 24.5 per cent of Irish people routinely shop in either Lidl or Aldi. That means around 75 per cent of people rarely or never darken the discounters’ doors. If you are in this cohort it’s really worth having a look. The quality of the stock in both has improved dramatically in recent years and you could easily knock 30 per cent off your weekly grocery shop if you do it cleverly. Spread the saving over the course of a year and you will be more than two grand richer at the end of 2021.
5 Go own-brand
Even if you want to stay loyal to your supermarket or if you don’t have one of the German discounters near you, there are still ways to shop and save. We’ve long been a convert to own-brand products. We’re not saying they are all lovely and there is undoubtedly some awful stuff selling under the brand names of some of the State’s biggest retailers, but there is also some very high-quality stuff that typically sells for 30 per cent less than the brand equivalent.
6 Stuff the superfoods
As part of some class of new-year/new-you thing you might be eating more self-styled superfoods. This is entirely understandable as you have most likely spent two weeks eating incredibly rich foods and drinking far too much booze. While goji berries and chia seeds and the like are grand, they are expensive. You’re probably as well-off drinking loads of water and eating normal, healthy food.
7 Scale back on subscriptions
Give yourself an audit. Work out where your money is going each month and you might be able to work out what you can do to cut back. There was a time when doing this required sifting through endless sheaves of bank statements, collecting all your receipts and looking over incomprehensible utility bills. But times have changed and technology is now your friend. So, the first step on your road to financial redemption will see you log on to your online bank account so you can go through the last six months of your transactions. Keep an eye out for all payments or direct debits that look unfamiliar; it doesn’t matter if the payment is substantial or just €2.99 for some online service you have long since forgotten you signed up for. Cancel all the subscriptions to services that you reckon are of no value to you any more
8 Put a cork in it
Now is as good a time as any to board the wagon to Soberville. We are not suggesting you do it forever, just until the end of the month. If a couple who are in the habit of drinking four bottles of wine a week put a cork in it between now and beginning of next month they will easily save themselves €150, and will probably feel a little bit less muddled of a morning too.
9 Ditch the detox
If you are thinking about maybe going on some class of detox diet or have already gone down that road – turn around now before it is too late. We have said it before and we will say it again, detox diets are nonsense. The cold, hard reality is there are absolutely no special treatments or fast tracks to help your body detox itself. You have organs to look after detoxification. Doctors and dietitians all over the world have been saying it for years. Detox is a scam – don’t get fooled again.
And on a not unrelated topic, there are tens of thousands of diet books in print right now, many of which promise the secrets of sustainable weight loss. But the vast, vast, vast majority of the diets, plans and books simply do not work in the long – or even medium term. There is a huge volume of research from experts and consumer groups across many countries showing that 95 per cent of diet programmes fail. If you want to lose weight, eat less, exercise more, watch your sugar intake and cut back on processed food. These steps will not help everyone get into perfect shape (the problem of obesity is more complicated than that), but it is a good starting point and it might even save you money.
11 Give your insurance a check-up
Many of the 2 million or so people in Ireland with private health insurance are heading into the busiest renewal period of the year. More than 1.5 million of those people will simply allow their policy to be renewed without asking too many questions of their provider. But bear in mind that if you have not reviewed your health insurance policy in the last three years you can almost certainly save money by doing so now. It can be complicated, we’re not going to lie, but making a bit of effort could easily save you hundreds of euro this year without the loss of any cover. The Health Insurance Authority website is the best place to start when making comparisons (hia.ie).
12 Shop sensibly
Another thing you might review is your shopping habits. We all know that shopping has changed somewhat in recent times, what with the queues and the masks and the hand sanitiser and the sometimes mad stocking up of things that you probably don’t need. Pricewatch, for instance, now has enough dried yeast in its cupboards to set up a sizeable bakery. We’re not sure we are ever going to be able to make our way through it. But in the midst of all the change, there are some basics we should not forget when setting out for the supermarket. Lists are still your friend and get into the habit of only buying what you need by checking what you have in your cupboards or your fridge before you go shopping.
13 Persist with providers
The year just past was not one in which many of our service providers covered themselves in glory and far too many of them seemed to go out of their way to make it as difficult as possible for people to make contact with them in the hope anyone looking for help or redress would just go away. If you have a grievance with a company, persist. Don’t just give up if it seems like too much hassle. That’s just playing into their hands. And if you keep hitting the brick wall, do not hesitate to get in touch with us.
14 Do your homework
But remember to brush up on your rights before you seek to have problems resolved. Don’t be the person shouting in a shop because they refuse to sell you that flat-screen telly that was incorrectly priced at 1 cent when it actually costs €1,000. And don’t be the one leaving the shop with leaking pair of walking boots because a work-experience kid has told you they are supposed to let in water.
15 Crunch the credit card numbers
Credit cards are a curse at time like this and the interest rate charged on credit card debt can be obscene, so you need to work hard to get it under control if at all possible. Work out how much your credit cards are costing you and look at how you use them and if there are spending pitfalls you could avoid. If your credit card balance is €5,000 and you’re paying interest on the debt of 23 per cent, then it would be mad to put money into your savings or buy things you don’t need at the expense of clearing more of that debt.
16 Save on energy
If you’ve not changed your energy supplier in the last couple of years, you are wasting money. As many as 60 per cent of Irish consumers have never bothered to change their electricity or gas provider and upwards of 80 per cent of us are paying the standard tariffs for both electricity and gas, which means we are paying hundreds of euro more than we need to. And, unlike changing bank account or mortgage provider, changing your utility provider is easy and – unlike switching breakfast cereals – the end product is identical. The biggest hurdle is getting the providers to answer their phones. You need 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), so energy suppliers can 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.