How to save €1,000 in half an hour with a few calls
With a hairshirt Budget on the way, it's time to save your hard-earned cash, says Louise McBride
GRAPPLING with a possible €50bn bill to bail out our banks, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan must save at least €4bn next year.
Yet again, taxpayers are in the firing line. Whether we'll be hit with higher taxes, social welfare cuts, the axing of child benefit for higher earners -- or a combination of all these -- remains to be seen. But whatever happens, expect to be penny pinching even more next year -- so start saving now to ease the pain.
Save €202 on energy bills in 10 minutes
Think twice before jumping for one of the bundled offers launched recently where you buy your electricity and gas from the same company. Just because you get a whopping discount on your gas doesn't mean you'll get the cheapest electricity under that offer too.
Airtricity, for example, offers a 20 per cent discount on gas if you buy your electricity from it as well. But under this bundled offer, you only get a 6 per cent discount on electricity. If you buy your electricity stand-alone from Airtricity, you could get a 13 per cent electricity discount.
The annual standing charge you pay for your gas under the bundled offer is also higher than with Bord Gais. With Airtricity, the standing charge is about €82, whereas with Bord Gais, it's €68.10.
You'll make the best savings on your energy bills by snapping up the cheapest stand-alone rates for electricity and gas.
You can get a 13 per cent discount on electricity with Bord Gais or Airtricity without signing up to a bundled offer.
To qualify for these 13 per cent discounts -- the best stand-alone discounts around -- you must receive your bills online and pay for them by direct debit.
At 15 or 20 per cent, Flogas offers the best stand-alone gas discounts. Check what price you will pay for your gas in March 2011 though, as Flogas only guarantees these discounts until the next review of natural gas prices, which is scheduled for then.
You pay the usual gas standing charge of €68.10 if you opt for the 15 per cent gas discount with Flogas -- but a higher standing charge of €124.85 applies with its 20 per cent discount.
So how much can you save by switching to the cheapest stand-alone offers?
The average ESB bill -- which includes the electricity standing charge of €104.40, the PSO levy of €37.18 and a charge for 5,300 units of electricity -- is about €990 a year.
Sign up to the 13 per cent electricity discount with Bord Gais or Airtricity however, and you could bring that bill down to about €880 -- saving €110 a year.
The average Bord Gais customer pays about €727 a year for gas, which includes a standing charge of €68.10, a carbon tax of €43.39 and a €616 charge for 13,800KWh of gas.
If you use a similar amount of gas, your annual gas bill can be cut to about €635 under Flogas's 15 per cent discount package -- saving you €92.
In this case, Flogas's 15 per cent discount package works out cheaper than its 20 per cent discount because of its lower standing charge. If you opt for Flogas's 20 per cent discount package, your gas bill is only reduced to €661.
So if you're an average electricity and gas customer, by switching your electricity from ESB to Bord Gais or Airtricity (13 per cent discount), and your gas from Bord Gais to Flogas (15 per cent discount), you can save €202 a year. It shouldn't take any longer than a five-minute phone call to switch in each instance -- or you can switch online.
Save €130 on health insurance in five minutes
You could save more than €100 by switching from a personal health insurance plan to a corporate plan. For example, VHI Plan B costs an adult €906.99 a year but a similar corporate plan, Company Plan Extra, costs €776 -- €131 less.
Both plans cover a semi-private room in a public or private hospital, as well as hi-tech cardiac treatment. The maternity cover is also quite similar.
Anyone can get a corporate health insurance plan -- you don't have to have access to one through your job to get one. Make sure you choose one that offers a similar amount of cover to the plan you're already on and that you're comfortable with any excess (first part of a claim you must pay yourself) in the plan. Switching should only take a five-minute phone call to your insurer -- and you should usually be switched to your new plan within a day.
"The only thing that will stand in your way if you switch is if you've made a claim," said Aongus Loughlin, a healthcare and risk consultant at Towers Watson. "If you're switching from a higher level of cover to a lower level and you're in the middle of making a claim, that could cause difficulties."
Get €339 back in tax in 10 minutes
You've held on to your medical receipts since 2007 and have just totted them up. Your bills for 2007 and 2008 add up to €600 and you've spent €465 on doctor's visits in 2009 and 2010.
Log onto Revenue's PAYE Anytime (http://www.revenue.ie/en/online/paye-anytime.html) and you should be able to claim €339 in tax relief on those medical expenses in about 10 minutes. You can claim tax relief for a raft of things on PAYE Anytime, including medical expenses, bin charges and rent. And as you can get tax relief for the last four years, your refund could add up to a hefty sum.
With medical expenses, you can claim tax relief of 41 per cent on bills paid in 2007 and 2008 and tax relief of 20 per cent for 2009 and 2010. As long as you do so before the end of the year, you can claim tax relief of 42 per cent on medical bills paid in 2006 -- though you can't claim relief on the first €125 of health expenses for that year.
Don't overlook rent relief. "A single person under 55 living in a rented apartment could claim up to €400 per annum in relief for the last two tax years and another €400 for this year," said Cathal Maxwell, managing director of paylesstax.ie. "That adds up to €1,200. For married couples, double this."
Save €25 on home insurance in two minutes
If you've given up the fags, tell your home insurer as some insurers offer discounts to non-smokers. For example, Zurich Direct offers a 5 per cent discount to non-smokers. So if your home insurance costs €500 a year with Zurich Direct, you could save €25 simply by taking two minutes to pick up the phone and tell ing Zurich you don't smoke.
If you do smoke, don't lose heart -- insurers offer a raft of other discounts. Zurich will knock between 9 and 11 per cent off your premium if you have an alarm. It also offers a 10 per cent discount if you're a first-time buyer. Both Zurich and Quinn Direct offer a 5 per cent discount if you apply for your policy online.
Save €304 on your phone in three minutes
If you've got wireless or cable broadband or make most of your calls on your mobile, you could save €25.36 a month in line rental by ditching your Eircom landline. It could take three minutes to make the call to Eircom to cancel your landline, but by doing so, you'll save €304 a year.
If you have broadband, sign up to Skype, where you can call any person in the world for free as long as they have also signed up to Skype. If the person you're calling doesn't have Skype, you can still call their landline pretty cheaply.
Make sure you're not paying through the nose for broadband, though. Among the cheapest for always-on broadband are 3 and Imagine, where you can get a package for as little as €14 a month; according to callcosts.ie.