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Spring Clean Your Finances

We’re being told we’re in a recession, incorrectly, so the newspapers are full of doom and gloom stories about how things are getting tight for many Irish consumers.

No matter what the reasons, it’s always a good idea to review your spending to make sure that you’re getting the best value possible and that you’re saving as much money as you can.

With that in mind, here’s a series of tips on how to review your financial position – now’s as good a time as any.

Review Your Mortgage – If you’re in your existing mortgage for a period of time, it’s no harm shopping around now to see what offers currently exist on the market. Though rates may have increased recently, with the banks adding their extra cuts, there have been reports about some banks, like IIB, reducing some rates. No harm ringing around to see what might be possible – like they say, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. See if there are deals available from various banks and building societies. Ring around, or search the web, and see what’s available and work out if you could be better off. Remember to ask what extra a new bank or building society can do for you if you were to move to their mortgage package (e.g. with regards to fees, penalties etc.). And finally, if you’ve found a better offer, ask your existing lender if they are willing to do anything for you in order to keep your business.

Review Your Home and Contents Insurance –
It may be that you’ve automatically renewed your insurance year after year without a thought. Prior to renewing this year, shop around for alternatives and possible better deals. Check out the Value Ireland Top Tips Sheet on Renewing Your Home Insurance.

Shop Around for Your Car Insurance –
Check out alternatives also for your car insurance. The Value Ireland Tips Sheet for Car Insurance provides you with a cheat sheet on items to consider when renewing your car insurance. We also provide you with a listing of insurance companies providing car insurance in the Irish market, with a handy sheet of questions to ask each of them. Check out doing an advanced driving course and getting a discount from certain insurance companies.

Review Your Travel Insurance Needs –
Similar to all other types of insurance above, if you’ve been regularly renewing your policies without checking out alternatives, make this year the year that you’ll do a little shopping around for the best value currently available. Check out the ValueIreland.com Top Tips for Saving on your Travel Insurance.

Car Breakdown Cover –
There is an impression sometimes that there is only one breakdown service available in Ireland. This isn’t the case, so you should check out the alternatives. In many cases, for a premium on your car insurance cover which is less than membership of a breakdown service, you may get exactly the same service – definitely worth checking out.

Revisit Your Credit Card Needs –
Obviously, having a credit card at all, and paying credit card interest rates isn’t very friendly to the wallet, so your first aim should be to get rid of your credit card if at all possible. However, with the provision of a new relief which effectively removes the double charging of government stamp duty on changing credit cards in the last budget, it is now much more viable to shop around and change credit cards if you can find a better deal. Look out for companies that are offering low rates of interest for credit transfers. In the UK it is common practice to only ever have your credit card balance on cards offering introductory rates. Watch out for cards that may offer benefits such as money back on purchases etc.

Change Your Bank Account –
Competition has “sort of” been present recently in the banking sector in Ireland, finally. Either through how fees are charged, or through higher interest rates, there’s a valid choice of bank accounts available now rather than sticking with the bank you’ve always been with – you owe them no loyalty. We’re all hearing how hard it is to change bank accounts, but with a little bit of planning and some quick action, it’s not as bad as the banks would like us to think. If you want to save the money on charges, make the effort and switch.

Review All Your Bills –
Take a months set of bills and make sure that you still require everything that you are paying for. You may have requested a service at some time in the past that you no longer require, or are paying for insurance or cover on an item you no longer have, or which is not valued as highly as it may have been in the past. For each bill that you are paying, it is worthwhile ringing up each company and ask if they have any way of either reducing your bills through discounts, or if they have cheaper ways of paying the bills – some companies may provide discounts for paying by Direct Debit.

Take Advantage of Your Age –
If you, or your spouse, has achieved pensionable age, then make sure that you’re taking advantage of all the discounts and benefits that are available to you.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle –
In many areas of the country we are no obliged to pay for bin collection according to the amount that we are dumping, either by weight or by volume. Firstly, make sure that you recycle as much as possible. Then, if you must throw out items, if you pay by weight, make sure you don’t let your rubbish get damp, and therefore heavier. If you pay by volume, try to compact as much as possible in your rubbish bin.

Change your Gas and Electricity Supplier –
Oh, hang on, you can’t. When we originally wrote these tips in 2005, we were told this was going to be possible imminently. Three years and we’re still waiting.

Consider Changing your Telephone Service Provider –
While competition has increased significantly in the home phone market, levels of service haven’t. Still thought, there are now a number of providers out there who can provide you with your home phone line, and in many cases, with better offers on call prices. Review your old phone bills to determine your regular phone usage patterns, check out what the newer companies have to offer and who offers the best deal for your particular usage, and change if you think it’s worth your while. Remember, ask your old provider before you move if there’s anything they can do for you to keep your business. Don’t forget the ComReg call costs comparison website – www.callcosts.ie.

Review Your Mobile Phone Usage –
Always check your monthly bills. If you pay upfront for your calls, the networks still allow you check your usage through their websites. Once you understand your mobile usage (texts, on-net, off-net, land-lines, peak, off-peak) you can then see how best you can take advantage of the different package plans offered by the networks. See what other networks have to offer, and if the deals are attractive, change your provider. And again, most importantly, remember, ask your old provider before you move if there’s anything they can do for you to keep your business. Again, don’t forget the ComReg call costs comparison website – www.callcosts.ie.

Save Money on Your Internet Connection
– Do you own a mobile, pay line rental for your home phone, and pay monthly for your internet connection, all at the same time? See if you line in an area served by wireless broadband and check out the costs – in some instances the cost is similar to a monthly internet connection over the phone line. Can you replace your landline completely and get broadband through one of the mobile internet providers such as O2, Vodafone or 3.

Check All Your Bills –
Since May 2004, 12 major Irish companies, plus the Government itself, have admitted to overcharging over 1m Irish consumers. In a Value Ireland survey, 42% of those surveyed said that they did not check every bill before paying. As consumers, we should protect ourselves by ensuring that the bills that we are paying are only for services that we have received.

Make Your Savings Work Harder –
If we’re lucky, some of us have money saved away for the “rainy day”. Is this money earning the best interest possible? Consider your needs for this money in the future, and if you work out a time-frame in which you will not need the money, see if you can find higher interest paying savings accounts for locking your money away.

Pension Contributions Relief –
Depending on your current pension standing, and your contributions as an allowable percentage of your salary, setting up a stand-alone PRSA pension for yourself could be a tax efficient way of saving money, and providing for your retirement. Further information is on www.pensionsboard.ie.

Health Insurance –
Review your health insurance costs and coverage. It is easier than people thing to shop around a little more when it comes to the provider for your health insurance and to actually change your provider. Review your existing policy, ensure it meets your requirements, and ring VIVAS, BUPA and the VHI and see who can give you the best quote.

Claim All Your Tax Relief Entitlements
– Are you claiming Tax Relief from the Revenue Commissioners for everything that you are entitled to? Check out www.revenue.ie to find out what your entitlements are, and to find out how to claim relief. Examples of relief which could possibly be claimed are Tuition Fees you may be paying, union subscriptions, rent tax credit, owner occupier rent relief, bin charges and certain health expenses.

Sell, Sell, Sell!!! –
Be inspired by all the TV programmes at the moment where people are making money from old or unwanted items in their storage areas and attics. There are the simple options like car-boot sales and local auctions, while the more technically savvy people can make use of internet auction sites such as ebid or ebay. Prior to moving house 5 years ago, Value Ireland made excellent use of the Amazon Marketplace feature to clear out hundreds of items to ease the burden of moving.

Research your purchases –
If planning to make a large purchase, don’t just go into the first shop you find and splash out. Do a little shopping around. Check alternative stores in your local area, and even outside if you’re able to travel. Keep an eye on the media for any advertising that may be relevant for your purchase. Use the telephone – ring up shops, explain what you’re looking for, ask about alternatives, ask about prices, and special offers. You could also check speciality magazines. These can provide reviews and price comparisons for many different products.

Save on the Weekly Shop –
Firstly, when going shopping, make a list, and stick to those items only. Secondly, remember that buying “store” or “own” brand can save a bundle. In many instances, the store brand is actually a name brand with a store label. The container or packaging may not be beautiful, but does that really matter? Finally, don’t automatically throw out the vouchers that get posted in your door, or are included in magazines and newspaper advertising – they may actually save you money on items that you normally buy anyway.

Shop Around –
As simple as it sounds, shopping around can be one of the best ways of saving money in any situation. Being aware of as many alternatives when making a purchase allows you make an informed purchasing decision, and you can be happy with yourself that you’ve made a good purchase.

Set Up A Change Jar –
There are many many ways in which we can easily get into regular habits for saving money on a regular basis. And many of these ways we won’t even notice on a weekly or monthly basis. A simple beginning is to set yourself up a “change jar” if you haven’t already done so, and regularly empty your wallet or purse of its small change. By not limiting the change you save to coppers, you’d be surprised how much can build up here.

Follow the Value Ireland Savings Plan –
On the basis of keeping track of our outgoings, particularly wasteful outgoings, Value Ireland has devised the Value Ireland Savings Plan. This plan forces you to match in savings any money you have wasted – the double whammy will encourage you not to waste money in future. The Value Ireland Savings Plan also encourages you to save any unexpected income (refunds, bank interest, bonus’ and gifts) and to add matching amounts from your existing funds. By keeping track of such items, and regularly putting away money in this way, you’ll build up a nice nest egg.

Make Your Money Untouchable –
If you have a tendency to raid your savings, then put your savings in a place where you can’t get to them easily. For example, invest in a term, or notice, savings account, where you can’t gain immediate access. A favoured Value Ireland trick is to put your savings regularly into Prize Bonds- you never know, you could be doubly lucky.

Always Have a Budget –
No matter what you’re buying, always have a budget, and keep in your mind how much something is worth to you. Know the price before buying, or else ask immediately while you still have a chance to back out. If you find it’s more than you budgeted for, just say “no thanks”. Don’t feel pressurised – just because you’re at the counter doesn’t mean you have to buy.

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