Q. I've a full-time job I really enjoy, but I constantly seem to be chasing my tail with bills and never manage to start saving. I'm determined to get my finances in order for 2020. Can you give me some tips on where to begin? Anna, Co Wexford.
A. It's not always easy to take control of your finances, but there are lots of benefits to establishing good money habits. These include knowing what you are spending your hard-earned cash on, identifying what your priorities are, and finding out whether you are spending more than you can afford.
However, you also need to be able to live, so you have to be realistic. You will be surprised how a few small changes can make all the difference.
First, to help you pay off any debts you have and start saving, set out exactly how much you are earning and how you are spending your money.
Then identify where you can possibly make changes. For example, could you save money by getting a better rate on electricity, your phone or insurance?
Identifying even a small amount will get you into the saving habit and help you to start building up a small nest egg.
Second, if you have outstanding debts, you should focus your efforts on clearing these before you prioritise saving. Interest rates on credit cards and personal loans are considerably higher than the interest you will earn on savings. This may mean that your saving plans will have to go on the back burner for a while. But the short-term pain of paying off your debts will put you in a better financial position to start saving in the future.
To get started, if you have credit card debt, set up a monthly direct debit (to pay off your bill) for the same date that you get paid. Along with helping you avoid late payments (which can affect your credit rating), this will allow you to budget how much you have to spend for the rest of the month. Also, try to pay more than the minimum payment off your credit card bill, as this will help you to clear your debt faster and reduce the amount of interest you pay.
Hopefully, these changes will allow you to start saving regularly. As your savings grow, it is important to put them into an account. There is a regular savings comparison tool on the CCPC's website (ccpc.ie), which shows the various savings accounts available and the interest rates on offer.
Third: prepare a 12-month plan. Some months can be more costly than others - such as the month your motor insurance is due. It's therefore wise to prepare a 12-month plan in advance so there are no surprises that you are not prepared for, and so you have something to draw on if there is a rainy day.
Changing health cover
Q. I have had private health insurance for years now. I have a good policy, but there aren't any maternity benefits. I am thinking about changing my policy and maybe my provider. However, there are so many options out there, I find it hard to choose. I am afraid that if I move insurer, I won't be able to claim if I do get pregnant. Can you provide any advice about what I need to consider? Gemma, Dublin
A. It's a good idea to review your private health insurance annually to see if you still have the right cover. By looking around you can see if there are other policies available which might save you money or be more suitable for your needs.
You should receive a notification date from your provider a few weeks before the renewal date which will give you some time to look around at other providers. To help you with this, there is a useful comparison tool on the Health Insurance Authority's website (hia.ie), where you can compare the cost of plans from different insurers - as well as the various benefits in each plan.
Once you have done your research, if you decide to go ahead and switch, there are a number of things to consider.
Although it can be time-consuming, be sure to read through your new policy documents carefully and if you have any questions on your cover, contact your provider. If you change your mind after switching, all insurers must provide a 14-day cooling-off period from the start of the contract. During this time, you may cancel and get a full refund.
Should you choose to move insurance provider, it's very important that you let your new insurer know about any pre-existing conditions you may have, as this might have an effect on the price and the level of cover you are offered. A pre-existing condition is an ailment, illness or condition, the signs or symptoms of which existed at any time in the six months before you took out health insurance for the first time.
Unless this is your first health insurance policy, there is no waiting period before you can make a claim - once you have switched to a similar policy.
Some people are reluctant to change providers as they believe they may have to reserve the waiting period. However, this is not the case and as long as there is not a gap of more than 13 weeks between being insured with one provider and moving to another policy with a different company, the completed waiting periods will not have to be served again.
This means you can usually move from one insurer to another without loss of cover. However, your new insurer may impose waiting periods for any extra benefits available on your new plan (such as maternity), so be sure to ask about this before you switch.
Private seller tickets
Q. I went online to buy tickets for a concert next year, but I wasn't quick enough and they all sold out in minutes. I've been browsing online and saw individuals selling them. There's not a huge mark-up on the tickets, but what should I be aware of before I hand my money over? Michael, Co Kildare
A. If you missed out on tickets to a show, it can be very tempting to look online for other options. There are a few things you should consider before you buy, though.
When you buy goods or services from a business, you have rights under consumer protection law. But when you buy from an individual, you do not have any consumer rights at all.
This means if there is a problem with the tickets, you may have difficulty getting recourse after you buy them. For example, if you receive the ticket and it is not what you ordered or if you are refused entry because the ticket is not in your name, then you may find it hard to track down the seller after the sale.
Some private-seller websites may ask that you pay upfront - with you being then sent or given the ticket.
In these situations, always ask the seller to provide you with evidence that they actually have a ticket for you.
Finally, should the event be cancelled, you may have a problem getting a refund. If a refund is made to the original purchaser's card, he or she may not be willing or able to give it to you.
Buying from a private seller could also leave you open to ticketing scams, such as forged tickets. If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Doireann Sweeney is head of corporate communications with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (ccpc.ie)
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While we will endeavour to place your questions with the most appropriate expert for your query, this column is not intended to replace professional advice.
Sunday Indo Business