NEW year financial resolutions can often be harder to keep than more general, lifestyle ones, but why not combine elements of the two? After all, we are all a bit fed up with austerity. This year, concentrate on making the smallest of changes to your lifestyle to make it run leaner and fitter – and save cash in the process.
Here are some suggestions.
1 Cut costs rather than cut back
If money is tight, the most natural response may be to cut out life's little luxuries and spend money only on the essentials.
But you would be surprised at the extent to which you can still enjoy those luxuries by taking a different approach or by simply shopping around.
For instance, buy good quality filter coffee and a good, reusable coffee mug, walk straight past Starbucks on your way to work and save up to €800 a year.
Alternatively, with the price of coffee plunging, check out prices in different coffee shops.
Similarly for takeaway lunches, make a batch of packed lunches for the week on Sunday instead and save up to €1,000 a year.
The same applies to things like services. There are a number of good comparison sites now for utilities like gas and electricity, mobile tariffs, banking, broadband, TV and home phone, including Bonkers.ie, Callcosts.ie and uSwitch.ie.
Many families consider health insurance as an essential but, as evidenced by the numbers deciding to cancel policies, many don't. Either way, as more providers introduce cut-price plans, it's worth looking at trading down to a cheaper policy. Check out hia.ie or healthinsurancesavings.ie.
2 Reduce waste
It is estimated that the average household generates as much as 300kg of food waste annually, at a cost of between €2 and €4 per kilo, which means we are literally throwing out between €600 and €1,200 every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The best way to prevent such wastage is to do more batch cooking, which allows you to freeze portions for later use. By doing so, you are less tempted to send for a takeaway or a microwave meal when you are stuck for time or just too tired to cook.
Other useful tips include re-using leftovers and not sticking rigidly to food use-by dates – use your own judgment about whether it has gone off.
3 Avoid banking charges
The days of free banking are a distant memory for most of us, and last year AIB and Bank of Ireland hiked their charges or added new ones.
For instance, AIB increased the fee for paper and staff-assisted transactions – including cheques or withdrawals carried out in a branch or post office – for current account holders by 9c to 39c.
But there are still ways to avoid or minimise some these charges.
Many banks now require customers to keep substantial amounts of money with their bank account in order to avoid paying hefty monthly or quarterly fees. So aim to keep sufficient balances in your account to meet these conditions.
If you have a number of bank accounts, it may be worth consolidating them into one main account.
Use your online banking account to set up text alerts to let you know if your accounts are close to going into the red, particularly if you don't have an overdraft facility.
Similarly, make sure that all standing-order payments reach their destination on time and that you have enough to cover any direct debits due.
If you always pay off your credit card bills in full every month and rarely get into long-term credit card debt, then it might be worth considering cutting it up in favour of using a debit card or setting up a joint credit card account with your partner.
4 Ditch the year-long gym membership and go running instead
It's easy to see why running is very popular at the moment.
Besides being quite trendy, it also costs very little beyond the price of a decent pair of trainers and some essential running gear – which you can get very cheap in Aldi or Lidl.
But if you do use gym facilities reasonably regularly, then consider looking for a gym that allows you to pay as you go rather than an up-front yearly membership.
5 Spend an hour on your family finances every fortnight
Even if you understand why doing up a budget and sticking to it makes sense in almost every way, many of us never get much further than pledging to do so as a new year resolution.
One good way to start is to set aside an hour every fortnight to sit down and review your family finances.
While this might sound arduous, the trick is to vary what you do every week.
For example, one session might involve checking the interest rates you are earning on your savings, while the following one could be spent checking when various insurance products run out and add reminders on your calendar to shop around.
Another session could involve comparing and switching household bills.
Setting aside a regular hour will mean you are forced to go looking for ways to save money on your bills and will give you far greater oversight and control over your cash.