Smart Consumer: 10 ways to boost your spending power
Not everybody hates budgeting. There are people out there with secret spreadsheets detailing every last cent that comes in and goes out. You know who you are.
The sad truth, however, is that if you're serious about saving money, the first thing you need to do is get a handle on incomings and outgoings.
To that end, there are plenty of great resources online. The National Consumer Agency has a whole suite of budget planners at NCA.ie.
They'll help you to plan everything from having a baby to getting to Euro 2012. Once you've nailed the budget, here are 10 ways to make it look a whole lot better.
1 Stop paying tax
Or at least stop paying as much as you do. Though successive budgets have clawed back a lot of the allowances and reliefs that had been available, taxation experts still say that there's as much as €840 per taxpayer in unclaimed reliefs sitting in state coffers.
You can claim tax back for a wide range of dental, drug and medical expenses, as well as money paid out for third-level tuition fees. Though not a relief as such, employee allowances are a frequently overlooked reimbursement available from Revenue for a specific list of occupations. These are for expenses related to your job and they don't have to be vouched, meaning you don't have to turn in receipts to claim them.
For example, nurses who supply and launder their own uniforms can claim back €733 per year, and can backdate it for up to four years. Waiters, firefighters, dockers, pilots and archaeologists all qualify for a rebate. Check revenue.ie to see the full list, and to apply, simply get in touch with your local tax office.
2 Stop paying interest
Credit-card debt is the most expensive kind of debt around. If you're nursing a large debit balance, consider transferring. One Direct, Permanent TSB and Tesco Personal Finance offer 0pc finance on balance transfers for periods of between six and 10 months.
If there's no chance of clearing the debt before the free period expires, you can at least buy yourself some time, during which you should investigate the refinancing option. Personal loan rates have ticked higher over the last 12 months, but most will still beat out credit card rates.
3 Reduce your mortgage payments
Because so many banks have deserted the sinking ship that is the mortgage market, switching is no longer an option for most of us. But there are still ways to economise.
When you took out your mortgage, the bank also insisted you take out mortgage-protection insurance. For convenience sake, most people just accept the bank's policy and never shop around. If that's you, you're passing up substantial savings.
Last month, the NCA did a comparison shop of mortgage-protection insurance and found differences of more than €6,300 between providers. The mortgage protection policy is one insurance product for which it makes sense simply to get the cheapest one going -- you'll get no additional benefits for paying more.
4 Get a more fuel-efficient car
The AA's most recent survey found that the cost of running a family car in Ireland rose by €646 last year, thanks primarily to the price of fuel at the pump. The average price of a litre of petrol in March 2011 was €1.49. This march, it was €1.62. Not to be outdone, car insurance costs rose 3pc in the year to February.
Trading down to a more fuel efficient car could save hundreds a year. Alternatively, leave the car at home altogether.
The Cycle-to-Work scheme is a little piece of boom economics that only arrived when the recession hit three years ago. Check out biketowork.ie.
You can save an astonishing 52pc on the retail price of a bike for travelling to work.
5 Save Energy
Check out the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland's site seai.ie for a range low-cost and no-cost energy savings measures you can take right away.
For example, SEAI reckons that by taking the following five measures, you can save yourself €350 per year: lower your thermostat by one degree; swap out four regular bulbs for energy-saving CFLs; never leave your appliances on standby; ensure all appliances are full before you use them; set the heat to come on 30 minutes before waking up and set it to go off 30 minutes before you go to bed.
6 Turn clutter into cash
A couple of years ago when we were all drinking champagne in our guitar-shaped swimming pools, if someone had suggested a car-boot sale, we would have had to call security to have them thrown out.
Now that we're all back eating corned beef and living with our parents, car-boot sales are making a bit of a comeback. Keep an eye on local press and supermarket ads for details. And if you're car boot's been repossessed, there are always auction sites like eBay, eBid and Amazon.
7 Rent out a Room
This could be a great short-term option, especially if you live in the right spot. House prices may still be falling but a reduction in the number of rental properties on the market has seen rents stabilise in the last three years. Check out daft.ie to see what people are willing to pay for house-shares in your area. You could net anything from €250 a month up.
The other great thing about this option is that you won't pay any tax on the rental income, up to a limit of €10,000. Nor do you pay any tax on income you receive for providing meals, laundry, or any other lodger-type services.
8 Get Free stuff If you start to miss all the clutter you've sold off, set up a new email account and sign up for freecycle.ie and jumbletown.ie. On these sites, users offer goods they no longer need at zero cost to whoever's willing to come and take them away.
Also, check out free-stuff.ie, which showcases a wide range of printable vouchers, free samples, free competitions, discount codes and survey-based offers.
9 Rein in the Grocery Spend
If you haven't done so already, try the own-brand stuff. Some of it is perfectly fine, and all of it is a whole lot cheaper than the branded stuff.
Still not convinced? Bring home some own brand stuff and try a blind taste test on your family. Last year, Heinz was left red-faced when a blind taste test by consumer watchdog Which? ranked its tomato ketchup in last place, 13th behind eight own-brand ketchups.
The weekly special offers are always well worth keeping an eye on. If you miss the leaflets through the door, log on to cheapeats.ie or thriftypages.ie -- both give a rundown of what's on offer at all of the big supermarkets each week.
And never shop when hungry. Make a meal plan for the week, compile your shopping list based on that, then make like a bouncer. If it's not on the list, it's not getting in.
10 Ask for a pay rise I know, I know. In this climate?
But not every organisation out there is on its knees. The recession has made us all grateful that we have a job at all, but if you've suffered pay freezes and worked longer hours or taken on extra duties, maybe it's payback time.
If your organisation has turned a corner, ask for a meeting with your employer, prepare your pitch very carefully and go for it. It's so crazy, it just might work.