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Consumer Feature

[This article refers to TopTips.ie which I gave up as no longer necessary – instead, you can click on the ValueIreland Top Tips page.]

The Irish Examiner
Fiona McPhillips

There are few of us who haven’t been hit by the recession, the credit crunch and the recent budget.  So what are we going to do about it?  Many consumers have been turning to the Internet for advice on how to manage their money, cut costs and find the best bargains.  Others have joined online communities in the hope of pooling their resources in the quest for a fair deal.

“How to live on less” is one such topic on the parenting site, www.magicmum.com, while www.boards.ie has a message board for bargain alerts and another one for consumer issues.  Financial awareness website, www.askaboutmoney.com, allows users to ask advice of other users on a wide range of financial issues, while another message board, www.thepropertypin.com, sorts the truth from the spin on the Irish property market.

Despite this positive action from consumers, it seems that Irish businesses have not yet stepped up to the mark.  Diarmuid MacShane of www.valueireland.com feels that there has still not been much of a change in how retailers and service providers deal with their customers.  “We’re seeing many gimmicky offers from the big supermarkets recently – points back weekends and money off weekends – but no consistent dropping in prices yet.  You get the impression that many Irish businesses would rather not sell anything at all instead of dropping their prices.”

Instead of putting up with this, consumers are moving away from the large supermarkets in favour of German discounters, Lidl and Aldi, once considered “too cheap” by many.  Web designer, Katherine Nolan, set up the blog, www.lidltreats.com, last summer in a response to the negative media attention the low-cost supermarkets were receiving.  The blog points out particularly good buys and quality products and offers some great recipes for those needing a little inspiration. “When exactly did it become shameful to get value for money?”, she asks her readers.

Only three months on, Nolan feels attitudes are changing already.  “There was a time when people would say that they only went to Lidl or Aldi occasionally or they would sniff about quality and say they never went near the place.  Now they are more likely to boast about how they’ve been shopping there for years and can’t understand why other people took so long to join them.  It’s a badge of pride to be able to point out the best buys and people definitely boast about their bargains.”

It is a view shared by Deborah Hadley at www.frugalireland.com.  “Initially, when people are quite amazed with the savings, they are likely to be quite proud and try to evangelise.  Eventually it will taper off as we all cop on and begin to shop around regularly.”  Hadley shares advice on budgeting, menu planning, supermarket deals and coupon codes.  She explains that, while she could do her weekly shop in Tesco for €250 in one hour, two hours of shopping around at Aldi, Tesco and her local butcher will yield the same results for €100.  Hadley advises calculating potential costs per hour for any shopping trip in order to maximise savings.  “People use lack of time as their biggest excuse but if you put it into perspective, it becomes less valid an excuse.”

There are also substantial savings to be made in both time and money by shopping online.  Keep an eye on online offers, sales and coupon codes at shopping.blogs.ie.

Top Five Lidl Treats:

  1. Chocolate: the JD Gross bars and the Fair Trade chocolate are as good as premium brands and half the price.
  2. Continental meats: parma, salami and chorizo are of very good quality and priced so that they can be everyday purchases rather than luxuries.
  3. Vegetables: good quality, excellent selection and the best organic vegetable section of any supermarket.
  4. Frozen fish: salmon fillets, prawns and breaded fish are all good.  There are often great fish specials such as sea bass, lobster and crab and frozen, ready-prepared fish dishes of a very high quality.
  5. Kitchen stuff: washing-up liquid, dishwasher tablets, surface cleaners, tinfoil, greaseproof paper, freezer bags and refuse sacks are all very cheap and very good quality.

Top Five Value Ireland Tips:

(see also www.toptips.ie)

  1. Read up on the budget – Find out exactly how the budget changes are going to affect you.  If you are going to need more money, work out where that is going to come from.  If you are going to be better off, put the extra money into your savings.
  2. Review your habitual spending – Make sure you are getting the best deals on your home, health and car insurance.  Monitor your electricity and gas usage.
  3. Be vigilant for price rises – Make sure you are not taking the hit when the 0.5% VAT increase kicks in on 1st January 2009.  Any businesses that are trying to pass the cost on to their customers should be exposed and boycotted.
  4. Be aware of your consumer rights – Make sure you know what you are entitled to as a consumer so businesses cannot take advantage of you in their efforts to cut costs.
  5. Get online – As well as consumer-led resources, there are government-run sites that can benefit Irish consumers.  These include the National Consumer Agency (www.nca.ie), the Financial Regulator (www.financialregulator.ie) and the communications regulator, ComReg (www.comreg.ie).

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