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Friday 22 August 2014

Take small steps and you'll save yourself a fortune

Published 09/12/2012 | 05:00

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THIS time three years ago, sickened at how much Budget 2009 had taken from my family, I decided to do something about it. Now we spend over €5,000 less each year as a family of two adults and one young child.

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You can do as I have done by changing your spending habits and spending your money smarter. It's about making changes, not sacrifices.

Switch all utility bills

There are several ways to make savings here, eg, better insulation. However, something you can do immediately, and it's free, is switch to a cheaper provider.

If you have already switched, then make sure your discount has not expired. Often after 12 months, you automatically revert to the standard rate.

There are several providers offering various discounts: www.BordGaisEnergy.ie; www.Flogas.ie; www.ElectricIreland.ie; www.Airtricity.ie

Save up to 23 per cent on gas unit rate or save 17 per cent on gas and 6 per cent on electricity. Typical annual dual fuel savings €108: 2-bed apartment, €155: 2-bed house, €204: 3-bed house, €248: 4-bed house.

www.Bonkers.ie is a good website for comparing the different providers and packages available.

Avoid brands

Your grocery bill will be your second biggest annual bill after your mortgage. It is worth trying some of the supermarkets' "own brands", which are much cheaper and often of equal quality. Doing this across several grocery items on a weekly basis can add up to significant savings.

Let's take milk as an example using prices at www.Tesco. ie: 1L CMP milk €1.19. 1L CMP fat-free milk €1.23; Tesco own-brand milk and skimmed milk, 1L 75c each. We use three litres of full-fat and two litres of skimmed each week so switching to Tesco 'own brand' milk saves us €118.56 each year.

Stop wasting food

According to www.StopFoodWaste.ie, Irish households throw about €1,000 worth of perfectly good food in the bin each year. Stop this by planning your shopping and only buying what you need. Make a list of what you throw out each week to help you decide what you need to buy less of. Remember, you can consume something after its 'best before' date but not after its 'use by' date.

Stock up on special offers

If you see a 2-for-1 offer or 50 per cent extra free on a product that you use regularly which has a long shelf-life, buy several months' or even a year's supply.

Check the supermarkets' websites before you go shopping and make a list of all the special offers as they may not be as easy to find in the store.

Learn new skills

Learn to cook and you can make a nice meal out of leftovers. Learn to DIY so you can fix that leaking radiator or change the air filter and light bulbs in your car.

Look for seasonal offers

Some great offers come up off-season. This is a good time of the year to get a great price on a BBQ or swimwear. Remember, it's only a "good deal" if you needed it to begin with, and to target a discount of more than 50 per cent.

Some recent examples include: pedestal charcoal BBQ was €47.11, now €17.99; kettle BBQ cover was €12.99, now €1.99 at Argos. Men's Speedo swimming briefs were €27.00 now €10.80, just 40 per cent of its original price; Women's Jasper Conran bikini bottoms were €25, now €7.50 at Debenhams.

Reduce transport costs

With fares on the rise, consider pre-paid smart cards, leap cards or www.taxsaver.ie. Consider cycling or car pooling also. Phone the train or bus company to ask how you can make savings.

Shop around relentlessly for petrol and diesel prices. Visit www.Pumps.ie – savings of over €100 per year can be made. Avoid unnecessary journeys and drive like you do when the fuel reserve light comes on.

Stop paying bank fees

Phone your bank tomorrow to find out how to stop paying fees. Consider phoning other banks to see if you can get free banking from them.

If you have money in a savings account, check whether it makes financial sense to put some of that money into your current account to meet the minimum criteria for not paying bank fees.

We had been paying approximately €60 per quarter, or €240 annually, in bank fees. I discovered if I keep my balance above €2,500 and make one online banking transaction per quarter, I pay no fees.

This is equivalent to getting 9.6 per cent interest net on my balance of €2,500.

Sell old items

Next time you are replacing furniture, garden power tools or an electrical appliance, consider selling your old one. Unless it is beyond repair, it has a value. Check your attic and garden shed also to see if you can sell anything you no longer use. Take good pictures of and describe the item honestly: www.DoneDeal.ie; www.GumTree.ie; www. eBay.ie

Switch insurance policies

It is nearly always possible to get cover for less than your renewal letter is quoting, every year. For all insurance policies, the best tip is to shop online for three prices, then get on the phone and try to negotiate an even cheaper price. Try to pay in full (if you can afford it) instead of direct-debit.

Car insurance: Don't over insure, make sure your car valuation is up to date and if your car is worth €1000 or less, ask yourself if you really need fully comprehensive cover. Include your partner as a named driver.

House insurance: Ensure your rebuilding costs are accurate (www.scsi.ie) and try to get all the discounts, eg discount for monitored alarm.

Mortgage protection: Most online providers offer up to 60 per cent off in the first year, so switch to one of these. Our mortgage protection premium went from €680 to €272 – a saving of 60 per cent.

Visit www.Chill.ie to compare prices for car, house and mortgage protection cover at over 10 different insurance companies on your behalf.

Health insurance: Ask for a company equivalent of your health plan as it can be up to 10 per cent cheaper – this could be a saving of €200-€300 per year for a family policy. Phone several providers to ask them how to get cheaper cover and visit www.hia.ie.

Travel insurance: Consider shopping online for an annual travel insurance policy. Check your health insurance plan as you may be covered. www.BlueInsurance.ie is worth looking at.

Saving money is very similar to trying to lose weight or training for a marathon. There are three fundamentals:

1. Set yourself a target, make a plan to get there and visualise yourself reaching it.

2. Reward yourself along the way for progress made.

3. Stick to the plan. How To Save €5000, published by Oak Tree Press, is available from book shops. It can also be ordered from my website www.HowToSave5000.ie in paperback, Amazon Kindle and e-book formats.

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