Make those New Year resolutions today
THE lights are on and the decorations are up in streets and towns across the country. With only a month to go until Christmas, retailers are getting ready for the holiday rush, and we're planning our shopping, gifts and parties.
December is certainly not a month that many of us think about saving or cutting back – we spend more at this time of year than at any other. It's no wonder then that we put a lot on our credit cards at this time of year too – a sign that we don't always have the money we need to buy the things we want at Christmas time.
It's important, however, to keep your spending in check in the run-up to Christmas. The start of the year is a hard time financially, not just because of our extra spending, but because it's cold and dark and our heat and light bills are much higher too. It's also the time of year when many of our renewals fall due, such as motor tax and car insurance.
January and February are among the busiest months at bonkers.ie. That's when many customers come to us to cut their regular bills. They often do so after receiving big winter gas and electricity bills – or they decide they need to do something about their credit cards. It's part New Year resolution, and part winter bill shock.
In most cases, customers can save money, but it can really help to be proactive too. Here are three ways to cut costs – or to spread them evenly throughout the year, so that you can avoid the post-Christmas financial blues.
Sign up to flat-rate bills
Avoid winter bill shock by paying a flat rate for your gas or electricity every month throughout the year – rather than paying big bills in the winter and smaller ones in the summer. Most energy suppliers, including Airtricity, Bord Gais and Flogas, allow you to do this.
It works like this. Your supplier looks at your consumption for the previous year, works out what it would cost in the coming year and then divides it into 12 monthly payments.
Get cheaper energy
We have found that most people switch in the first few months of the year after they get big winter bills – but why not check to see if you can save now?
You'll be on the best plan before you use the bulk of your gas and electricity rather than after you've already used it, which will save you money. Six out of seven customers could save money by switching to a better energy plan with their current supplier or switching to a new supplier.
Shop around when renewals kick in
The New Year is a time for costly renewals. More than half of new cars are bought in the first four months of the year, which means that most of us face into the New Year with our car insurance renewals due at that time too.
Don't just accept your insurance company's renewal letter and pay what they ask though. Call them and find out how much it was last year. If it's gone up, ask why. Then call three or four other insurance companies to see if they can offer you a better price. If you do get a lower price, call your own insurance company. If they can't match it, switch.
This strategy works well for many people and can save hundreds. But don't just leave it at car insurance. Taking the same approach with home insurance, mortgage protection insurance and other annual renewals can really add up.
Simon Moynihan is director of communications at price comparison website bonkers.ie