Make 2014 the year to tackle the family finances
A few small steps can save you hundreds of euro
New year resolutions are hateful things. They sit there, a constant reminder of failure, a sneer at your shortcomings; that's why they should never be left until the new year. So think of household budgeting as a lifestyle change of which habit and apathy are the enemy. If it all seems insurmountable, here are 10 baby steps that can lead to super savings in 2014.
Where did it all go wrong?
You can't change anything if you don't know what happened. What gave you a fright during 2013? Dishwasher breaking down? A bill you hadn't planned on? Or just misjudging day-to-day costs?
Whatever it was, you need to plan for the unexpected. What's coming in 2014 that you already know about? A niece's wedding, a holiday, or a niggling doubt that the boiler's going to blow? Stop being surprised by your spending and create a contingency fund instead for the unforeseen.
Yes, it's boring, unless you're Michael Noonan, but there's no better first step in money management than making a budget. You might even enjoy it. Okay, you won't, but the feeling of smugness will make up for that.
It's easy to remember weekly spending; buying groceries, lunch, petrol, etc, and we're okay at knowing what goes out every month (direct debits, utilities), but we often forget the one-off stuff, like bin charges, birthdays, back-to-school expenses, TV licence or visiting the dentist, only to fret when they arise.
The National Consumer Agency (nca.ie) has a good template, but the best is the Standard Financial Statement from the Central Bank (centralbank.ie). It's for people in arrears, and is nothing if not thorough! Keep your budget organic – family life is changeable; add and subtract as you go and you'll feel more in control straight away.
Finally, pay yourself a "wage" each week rather than dipping into the ATM. Be ruthless.
The necessary evil. In 2014, make it your business to work out exactly what you have, and whether it's worth switching or cancelling. Loyalty is irrelevant in the modern insurance market.
Add up all the premiums you pay – for an average family this can be €5,000 a year or more between health, car, house, travel and life cover. That should be incentive enough to do something about it. There are super comparison websites like Chill.ie, Getcover.ie and Bonkers.ie. Never renew policies automatically.
Look, there's nothing you can do about your repayments. If you're on a tracker, stick to it like glue; those on variables will have to take comfort from the high moral ground of subsidising them.
One thing you can do is change your Mortgage Protection. Rates have plummeted and you can do better. Find a decent broker (iba.ie), only buy what you need and tell the bank to take a hike if they whinge. You must have life cover, but not theirs, and one "handy" direct debit isn't good enough reason to pay over the odds.
The average family gives €6,000 pa to supermarkets. Get loyalty cards for them all and stick them on a keyring. You'll get special offers, vouchers, and are never without the one you need.
Designate one day a week "leftover night" and cobble together dinner from stuff you would end up chucking out. Try www.bigoven.com for recipes using three mismatched ingredients.
Become friends with your freezer, and also bulk buy detergents, nappies and alcohol with a pal for discounts.
Kids are smart, adaptable and know more than you think. Talk about family finances. Give pocket money relative to age if you can afford to, eg, a 12 year old gets €12, but they must agree to save a portion of it and budget the rest.
Health heart attacks
With thousands of plans on offer, many complex and obscure, who would blame you for just renewing your policy quickly and sticking it in a drawer?
This is what the insurer is counting on. But with premiums rising even faster than your blood pressure, it's simply too expensive for you to do that. Make 2014 the year you log on to www.hia.ie and take 15 minutes out to compare stuff, or call a broker to do it for you.
Dermot Goode at Healthinsurancesavings.com is reassuringly knowledgeable about such matters.
Safe to say if you're going to witness any green shoots in 2014, you're probably going to have to grow them yourself. For garden-phobics, starting with simple herbs or tomatoes is fantastically rewarding. Grow-bags will save you a fortune.
Educate and organise
Personal finance is not a sexy subject, which is a great pity. It is, however, what you spend your adult life trying to master in the absence of real knowledge. Most of us wouldn't drive, swim or do our job with the same level of ignorance.
Make 2014 the year you learn about your finances. Set yourself a goal of saving €1,000 on all the above. It's not only achievable but you get to choose what to spend it on. Like a weight-loss plan, keep it visible, refer to it often and keep the target in sight.