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Twenty quid 'till pay day...

STRAPPED for cash this January? Frugal schemes and penny-pinching tips to see you through the month.

Come the last week of January, our financial state is uniformly depressing . . . and yet we never seem to see the financial crash and burn coming. After the bank-busting blowout of the festive season and plonking down cold, hard cash for gym memberships, coconut water, and yoga pants, the week before payday seems to go on for an eternity.

Yet if there aren't nearly enough zeros on the end of your bank balance, you're certainly not alone. If you're facing up to a skinny end of the month - and not in a good way - there are means and ways of surviving this financial quandary . . .

1. Make a meal plan First things first; if you are very short of funds, you'll only really be shelling out for the basics, such as food and heat.

This shopping list, clocking in at less than €15, will give you five days of healthy dinners (plus leftovers for lunch the following day): 1 whole chicken (€2.99), 2 tomatoes (22c each), a clove of garlic (49c), a bag of carrots (99c), a bag of onions (69c), spaghetti (98c), 2 cans of beans/pulses (€1.23 each), broccoli (€1.14), feta cheese (€1.79), 1 lemon (50c), 2 avocados (75c each) and a packet of pitta breads (62c).

Have roast chicken with potato and vegetables on Monday, use some of the chicken in a spaghetti, tomato and feta dish on Tuesday, try a bean pitta with avocado and feta on Wednesday, pasta with feta and broccoli on Thursday, and a chicken and vegetable soup on Friday.

Et voila; wolf has been kept from the door and starvation staved off.

Prices from Tesco.ie


2. Do a clothes swap If you are missing the buzz of a shopping trip, yet daren't go near the high street, organise a wardrobe remix that will cost you approximately nothing. Invite a group of friends (with similar personal style) around for a clothes swap.

Very simply, everyone has to bring items of clothing they can bear to part with, resulting (hopefully) in a few new fashion finds. Just be sure that there are a few friends of a similar size to you in the mix.

Alternatively, the Swopshop on Crow Street in Temple Bar is Dublin's first clothing exchange shop, and a great port of call for anyone looking for a new look for gratis.

3. Host Come Dine With Me A sneaky one this, but not quite a cardinal sin. Come Dine With Me evenings -- as in, dinner parties that ape the popular reality show -- are growing in popularity across the capital. Enlist five friends from your group and organise it so that your night is on the other side of payday.

Ergo, gourmet meals without the financial sting. And, instead of bringing a pricey bottle of wine, whip up a batch of cupcakes or biscuits as a gift.

4. Go to the blood bank If you're in truly dire financial straits ahead of payday, a visit to the blood bank on D'Olier Street might get you over the line.

There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but for the grand ransom of a pint of blood, you will be given juice, crisps, biscuits and tea to ensure that your blood sugars don't dip dramatically after a donation. Take a friend along and make a coffee date out of it. Well, sort of.


5. Time for a financial inventory There is no better time to take a deep breath and examine your bank statements, and attempt to stem the flow of cash haemorrhaging out of your account.

Check all standing orders and direct debits: the onus is often on you to cancel direct debits from your account when you have stopped using a service.

You'd be surprised how many people, for instance, are paying for two broadband packages and using only one. Also, ask yourself if you are honestly putting direct debits like an unlimited cinema card, or yoga/gym membership to good use.

Mobile phone companies are going to great lengths to win even more customers, so shop around for a new plan . . . and tell your existing mobile phone company that you're thinking of moving, and ask whether they can offer you a more palatable price plan. Chances are they will in a bid to keep your business.

6. Walk everywhere If you're lucky enough to live close enough to work to strap on your trainers, get out of bed 30 minutes earlier and get walking. You'll save on bus/taxi/Luas/Dart fares.

And if an earlier start seems like a bitter pill to swallow, just remember that beggars can't be lazy commuters. You'll get a jumpstart on your fitness resolution, too.

Commuting aside, Dublin Tourism has a range of podcasts for walks around town that are free to download from their website. Walking podcasts include tours of the Croke Park Museum, Viking and Medieval Dublin, Dalkey and Dun Laoghaire, and various castles and cathedrals in Dublin.


7. Go on eBay Not to browse, obviously, but to sell. If your bank account is in double-digits you might find a cash injection, however small, in the back of your wardrobe. The busiest time on eBay is Sunday evening, so to ensure maximum traffic to your site, make sure your sale finishes on Sunday evening.

If you run it for seven days, you then get two weekends' worth of traffic to your listing. Those who list their items at a low price get more interest from buyers. If you have good photos and concise descriptions, you are sure to benefit from a cash bonanza.

8. Catch up on your TV watching You've always said that you never get the time to check out the shows that everyone is talking about . . . and now's your chance. Turn your week of penury into seven days of cultural education. RTE, TV3 and Channel 4 all have players on their websites so that viewers can watch pretty much anything that they've missed.

9. Brush up on your freeconomics Many Dubliners have already switched onto the money-saving power of swapping services. Through websites like www.swapright.com you can trade and barter services with others. Swap babysitting or dog-walking services, for instance, with someone who wants to offer manicures or personal training.

10. Get cultured Dublin is awash with art galleries and museums, all of which are free to mosey around. The National Museums in Collins Barracks and Kildare Street, for instance, are popular, as is the Gallery Of Photography in Temple Bar. The Chester Beatty Library won the European Museum Of The Year in 2002 and it's certainly worth a look.