Thou shalt obey these 24 consumer commandments
Pricewatch’s top tips to help you become a smarter shopper and get the most out of life
Pricewatch reckons a good consumer needs to follow 24 commandments to make sure they get the most out of life
Moses figured 10 commandments were enough to see the world right while Jesus was able to get it down to just two. But Pricewatch reckons that a good consumer needs to follow many more commandments to make sure they get the most out of life. By our count there are 24, in fact.
1) Always shop around
We are all creatures of habit. We tend to shop in the same supermarkets and buy clothes in the same places and stick with the same phone, gas, television and broadband providers, come what may.
This is understandable but not clever. Make a point of doing your “big shop” in a different supermarket every now and then. Just to shake things up. And if you have not experienced the delights of the German discounters in a while – and less than 30 per cent of Irish consumers shop in either Aldi or Lidl regularly – then give them a whirl.
The quality has improved dramatically in recent years and they will save you money. They will also dramatically reduce the time you spend shopping because they are small and have less than 20 per cent of the stock a really big supermarket operated by their rivals has, so you will be able to zip around. And probably buy some class of weird jack hammer to boot.
2) Be a supermarket ninja
We throw away as much as a third of the food we buy and appear happy to bin hundreds, if not thousands, of euro each year. Stop doing that by making sure you only buy what you need. Make lists and stick to them.
3) You must always keep some records
Not long ago we heard a terrible story of a person who ended up paying health insurance on the double for a whole year because they thought they had cancelled with one provider and signed up with another only to find out way down the line that the cancellation had not gone through as they thought.
When the company they had tried to leave asked them what date they had made the original cancellation call and who they had spoken to they had no idea. No records mean it is always going to be harder to get redress if things go wrong. So if you are interacting with a company and the outcome matters, take a note of the date and time and the people you were speaking to on your phone.
If you are making a complaint write a quick timeline of your grievances and include dates and times of phone calls or other conversations. Write down who you spoke to and what was said.
4) Don’t be an impulsive shopper
People who shop on impulse rarely make the best decisions. Always ask yourself two questions: do you really need this thing? And is this thing really good value for money?
And then go away and think about it for a while.
5) If it seems too good to be true, then it is too good to be true
Randomly received text messages and Facebook posts promising you free iPads are always nonsense. Expensive creams will not give you the gift of eternal youth, that expensive diet or homeopathic treatment aimed at taking years off you will not work.
And the sub-Saharan princess with a case full of diamonds for you is actually a sweaty man in a wife-beater and Y-fronts who will give you nothing more than endless heartache. And if you ever get an unsolicited email from your bank, from Revenue or anyone else asking for your bank details – or even just your name and email address – it is a scam, no matter how convincing the mail looks.
6) Cook more and buy less junk
Cooking is cheaper and better for your physical and mental well-being than relying on processed food.
7) The way of the cyclist is the better one
Cyclists are healthier than drivers. That is a fact. A couple of years ago the Lancet published a report which showed cyclists to be slimmer and likely to live longer than their car-driving counterparts.
Looking at biological data from more than 150,000 people and studying the health of half a million others aged between 40 and 69, scientists definitively concluded that getting on your bike was better for you. Another Danish study showed that regular cyclists live for more than five years longer than non-cyclists. And it will also save you thousands of euro in commuting costs while allowing you to feel super-smug.
8) Avoid all faddy diets and notions
Generally speaking such diets are expensive and worthless – this is particularly true of detox diets which are just nonsense. Don’t trust anyone who tries to sell anything that claims to be detoxifying unless it is a human organ. And you’re probably better off not trusting someone trying to sell you a liver or a kidney either.
9) Drink more water
For all its faults and for all the recent controversies of recent years, we should still be grateful that Ireland has a good supply of good-quality drinking water which comes from our taps free of charge (yes, yes, yes we know we pay for it through general taxation but you know what we mean).
10) Drink less bottled water
It takes three litres of regular water to manufacture a single litre of bottled water, and that plastic bottle will take at least 500 years to break down, at least until those enzymes that have evolved to eat plastic multiply. And let’s just hope they don’t evolve any further and start eating us.
11) Give your health cover a check-up and do it regularly
If you happen to be among the 70 per cent of Irish people with private health insurance who has not changed provider for a few years do before your next renewal date.
It will save you hundreds of euro each year – and you may even save thousands if you happen to be on a really expensive policy. And if you are canny you should be able to make the savings without losing any real benefits.
Remember when switching, providers can’t ask intrusive questions about your health. The only thing they can really ask if if you have health insurance already and, if so, for how long and with which insurer and what level of cover you have.
12) Change your utility providers repeatedly
As with health insurance providers, gas and electricity companies profit from our lethargy and ignorance. By switching from one charging you the standard rate to one offering a discounted rate you could easily save more than €200 over the next 12 months.
As many as 85 per cent of Irish people pay a higher tariff for both electricity and gas than they need to. And unlike Cornflakes or broadband, there is no difference in the quality of the gas or electricity between the dearest and the cheapest.
13) Have a spend nothing day
Every now and then set yourself a challenge to spend nothing for just one day. Then see if you can make it three days. Spending can be a habit and it can be broken.
And speaking of spending money, never do your grocery shopping while hungry or your online shopping when you are drunk. Don’t routinely carry your credit cards with you. And avoid the temptation to shop on payday. Anyone who goes into Penneys on the day they get paid is bound to leave with an armful of clothes they are almost certainly going to regret buying.
14) Don’t ignore your bank statements or telephone bills
Big companies profit from our unwillingness to even open – never mind actually read and try to understand – the bills and statements they send us either virtually or physically. So make a resolution to pay attention to them. You never know when you are being gouged and by whom.
15) Don’t be a pushover
Companies have made it a policy to make resolving problems as difficult as possible. The hope is that difficult customers – and by that we mean anyone looking for help or redress – will 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.
16) Learn your rights
You don’t want to be the person shouting in a shop because it refuses to sell you the flatscreen telly that was incorrectly priced at 1 cent. Retailers are not obliged to sell you a product just because it has a particular price tag on it.
And you do not have the automatic right to a refund or a replacement if a product turns out to be faulty or flawed in some way. A provider can instead offer to repair it. Oh and if you pay a deposit for something and then change your mind, do not automatically assume a provider will give you your money back. They might. But they might not. It depends on the terms and conditions.
17) Try to be nice
Working as a shop assistant or in a call centre can be incredibly difficult and not very well paid. If you have a grievance, there is little or no point in shouting at the lowest-paid staff member, the very person who has no power to effect change. Always be polite – and always make sure you are addressing your complaints to the right people.
18) Complain more
Without generalising overly Americans and Germans are great at complaining while Irish people are rubbish. We hate “making a fuss”. Not even Pricewatch is immune and unless a waiter actually spits in our soup before tipping it into our lap we are likely to say everything is grand even if it tastes like cold vomit. But complaining is good and good businesses want to hear our concerns so they can have a chance to address them.
19) Think about where you shop
Yes Amazon or Asos or the Honk Kong-based electronic’s retailer Dan’s Dodgy Deals might be cheap but what is the ultimate cost? If we all shop online all the time then local retailers will disappear and we will all be the poorer for that.
There is no point in mourning the passing of Clerys or Guineys or wherever if the last time you spent any money there was back when Johnny Logan was asking what another year was.
20) Pay attention to your missed calls
Unless you have friends in Senegal or the Democratic Republic of Congo don’t return a missed call from those places. In fact, if you have a missed call from any exotic looking number don’t call back. It’s almost always a scam.
21) Read the terms and condition, or at least some of them
We know that sometimes they are longer than the Bible so a handy way to scan them is to copy the whole thing into a Word document and use Ctrl-F to look for key words you think might be relevant.
22) Use social media to get what you want
These platforms are populated with enough trolls already. And when it comes to sharing personal details on such platforms such as the above, mind yourself and limit the amount of information you put into the public domain.
23) Work out if someone can help you
Is there an ombudsman or regulator who can help you out? There is a Financial Services Ombudsman, a Pensions Ombudsman, the Central Bank, a taxi regulator and ComReg, for starters. But remember they can rarely be your starting point, and you will have to exhaust the complaints procedure for that sector and deal with the company before they will entertain you.
24) Remember we are here to help
If you have been let down by a shop or service provider than contact Pricewatch – we might be able to help you out. But please remember we do get a lot of queries and complaints and can’t deal with them all.