How to be a smarter spender in the new year

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It’s January, the party is well and truly over and pay day is a long way off so now is as good a time as any for a 17-step programme to make you a more savvy spender.

1. One in four people routinely shop in either Aldi or Lidl, according to figures from retail analysts Kantar Worldpanel. While that is a whole lot of people it does mean that 75 per cent of us rarely or never darken the discounters’ doors. If you are in this cohort it’s really worth having a look. The quality of the stock in both has improved dramatically in recent years and you could easily knock 30 per cent off your weekly grocery shop. Spread the saving over the course of a year and you will be more than two grand richer at the end of 2018.

2. Now is the time to hop on the wagon – not forever, but until the beginning of next month. New year’s resolutions are almost always a disaster because they are open-ended and ultimately boring. But if you set yourself the goal of getting through January, it is much easier to do. The average Irish adult drinks the equivalent of eight pints of beer a week. That’s about €40 if you do all your drinking in a pub. Cut it out for the month and save yourself as much as €160.

3. Pricewatch is very partial to coffee. And we were delighted to read late last year that by drinking four cups every day we’ll live forever – although we did speed read the story so may have missed some of the key details. While coffee might be good for your health, the takeaway variety is not good for your wallet and if you cut out your morning cup for January you’ll save yourself €50.

Detox distractions

4. If you are considering a detox diet or have already started one – think again. And then decide not to bother – they are complete nonsense and as real and as useful to your wellbeing as a bowl full of unicorn dung. The simple fact is there are absolutely no special treatments or fast tracks to help your body detox itself. You have organs to look after detoxification. And it’s not just Pricewatch saying this; doctors and dietitians all over the world have been saying it for years. Detox is a scam – don’t get fooled again.

5. There are tens of thousands of diet books in print right now and they all promise us the secret of sustainable weight loss. But the vast, vast, vast majority of the diets, plans and books simply do not work in the long – or even medium term. Repeated surveys from experts and consumer groups in many different countries have proved that 95 per cent of diet programmes fail. So don’t get sucked into the latest fad. If you want to lose weight, eat less, exercise more, watch your sugar intake and cut back on processed food. These steps will not help everyone get into perfect shape (the problem of obesity is more complicated than that), but it is a good starting point that won’t cost you loads of money.

6. We are not anti-gym (in fact we’re happy to give our money to a very good gym) but joining such a place in January or February is madness. The dropout rate among people who take out gym memberships in the first part of any year is more than 60 per cent. That wouldn’t be so bad if gyms didn’t make it so hard to leave once they have you in their clutches. Far too many of those who join a gym this week and next with the best of intentions will find themselves locked into expensive contracts for at least a year. As many as 350,000 Irish adults are gym members, and less than half go regularly. Don’t find yourself in the wrong half.

Health insurance

7. Many people who have private health insurance will soon be facing into renewals. Most will stay with the same provider – in fact about 70 per cent of people with health insurance have never switched. They are all wasting money. If your renewal is coming up, call your insurer and ask for all the comparable plans to the one you have that cost less. Use the Health Insurance Authority website to make comparisons (hia.ie). If you are on a budget of, say, €800, you should ring and ask for the best-value plan for that amount. Always put the onus on the company to find the best value and to explain exactly what the plan does.

8. When it comes to getting in shape for the new year, the best thing you can do is overhaul your grocery shopping habits. Remember lists are your friend. Get into the habit of only buying what you need by checking what you have in your cupboards or your fridge before you go shopping. Then make that list and stick to it.

9. A sliced pan and a block of cheese will easily knock €25 a week off the cost of keeping yourself fed throughout the working day. You can also make a week’s worth of meaty stew for €5. Five bread rolls to go with it will cost €2, taking the cost of a hearty lunch for a working week to €7, or 80 per cent less than buying a sandwich every day.

Spend nothing

10. Challenge yourself to spend nothing for just one day. Then see if you can make it five days. Then seven. Spending money is a habit, but if you put your mind to it, it can be broken. You’d be amazed at how easy and refreshing it is to get through a whole day without spending a bean. The key is – obviously – not going into shops at all. If you find yourself weakening, just ask yourself if you really need whatever it is you are tempted to buy. If you can’t answer a truthful yes, then let it go.

11. We’ve long been a convert to own-brand products. We’re not saying they are all lovely; there is some awful stuff selling under the brand names of some of the State’s biggest retailers. But there is also some very high-quality stuff that typically sells for 30 per cent less than the brand equivalent.

12. It almost seems as if some companies have made it a policy to make resolving problems as difficult as possible in the hope that customers looking for help or redress will just go away. If you have a grievance with a company, persist. Don’t just give up if it seems like too much hassle. That’s just playing into their hands.

13. You don’t want to be the person shouting in a shop because it refuses to sell you the flat screen telly that was incorrectly priced at 1 cent when it actually cost €1,000. Nor do you want to be the person who leaves a shop with a banjaxed phone because a 19-year-old work experience kid has told you the reason it doesn’t work is because you dropped it down the toilet when you did no such thing.

Expensive superfoods

14. As part of some class of new-year/new-you thing you might be eating more self-styled superfoods. This is entirely understandable as you have most likely spent two weeks eating incredibly rich foods and drinking far too much booze. While goji berries and chia seeds and the like are grand, they are expensive. You’re probably as well-off drinking loads of water and eating normal, healthy food.

15. Take your credit cards out of your wallet and leave them at home. If you have them with you, you might be tempted to lean on them in the lean weeks ahead. Leave your debit card at home too. It’s much easier to spend €100 on plastic than in cash: you think about it more when you’re handing over notes.

16. Shopping around for a new gas and electricity provider is hassle-free and could save you €300 over the next 12 months. More than 80 per cent of Irish people pay a standard tariff for both electricity and gas; they are all paying hundreds of euro more than they need to. The discounts companies offer are in place for a year only. So, to avail of them, you have to switch every year.

17. We are lucky to have a supply of good-quality water coming from our taps (well, most of us are). Think twice before you develop a serious bottled water habit. It takes three litres of regular water to manufacture a single litre of bottled water, and that plastic bottle will take some 1,000 years to biodegrade.

TWEET ADVICE: READERS’ MONEY-SAVING TIPS

We asked Twitter users for the best money-saving tips. This is what they came back with:

Give up smoking average cost €3,000 a year. Use it to overpay your mortgage and it will clear a minimum of €60,000 in 10 years. @Tonywwwdot

Reduce food waste: eat leftovers, freeze up portions for busy nights (less takeout), be safe/sensible with use by vs best before dates. @orlanemo

If you have to buy sports gear, anyone with a Three mobile account can get 15% off with Elverys via their My3 account. @mcgeebers

Use your library. Check @LibrariesIre for contact details. Magazines and ebooks available to download online. All free. @MariaMernagh

Only go shopping with your most judgmental housemate. You’ll be in and out in two hours and have bought nothing. Sorted! @Kismet80

Buy six bottles of wine in Tescos costing €67. 25% off when you buy six brings it down to €50.25. Use €10 Dunnes shop and save voucher to reduce total to €40.25. €6.71 a bottle. Savings of €26.25 #Bonanza @SGGally1

Give up lattes and avocado toast!! @M4RYMURPHY

Save the tokens you were given to buy presents for Xmas 2018. @richardluddite

My savings plan is to buy next year’s Christmas present staples (pjs, books etc) in the Jan sales! @NessaCarter

Reclaim your tax every year… @MaggsMcCormack1

Don’t buy anything in the sales that you haven’t been needing for six months. @ocultado

TRANSFORM YOURSELF INTO A SHARPER CONSUMER

It’s not too late to make resolutions for the new year to make yourself a better consumer. Here our five suggestions.

1. Big businesses make money from our unwillingness to even open – never mind read or understand – the bills and statements they send. Always pay attention to such things – you never know when you are being gouged and by who.

2. If you are struggling to have a problem with a company resolved, stick with it. Some companies seem to make it their policy to make resolving problems as difficult as possible in the hope that unhappy customers will just go away. If you have a grievance with a company, persist. Don’t just give up if it seems like too much hassle. Then they win.

3. Be nice to shop assistants. And to the frontline call centre staff. These jobs can be incredibly difficult and not very well-paid and if you have a grievance with a shop or a service, there is no point in shouting at the lowest-paid staff member, one who has no power to effect change, just because they can’t resolve your problem. So be polite and make sure you are addressing your complaints to the right people.

4. Think about where you are spending your money. Yes, we know that bargains can be found online and in giant supermarkets, but local retailers are important and if we don’t make a conscious decision to support them, they will go out of business.

5. If you have been let down or messed around or gouged or in any other way mistreated by a retailer, business or supplier, resolve to get in touch with us . We get a lot of complaints via email and over the phone, and while we can’t deal with them all, we do our best to look into as many as we can. And we always want to hear your stories.



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