Top Tips for Irish Consumers from Jan Battles

With thanks to, and courtesy of, Jan Battles who writes for The Sunday Times, here is the 17th and last in our series of Top Tips for Irish Consumers.

When I’m being thrifty and virtuous (which I admit is not always) these are some of the things I have found that help me save money.

  • I’ve installed Skype on my computer, which has got to be one of the best inventions ever.  The software allows users to make telephone calls over the internet for free to other users of the service (and for a fee to landlines and mobiles). My best friend moved to Australia a few years ago and now instead of buying phone cards or access codes off websites I can call her totally for free. Not only does it cost me nothing, and is really easy to use, but because I have a webcam on my laptop I can see her every time we speak, instead of just once a year at Christmas. You’d think there’d be a catch, but I’ve yet to find it.
  • When using my credit card abroad and given the option of paying in euros or the local currency I always select the local currency. It means I’m not getting the crappy exchange rate the hotel, restaurant or shop has set (which will include a nice cut for themselves) but rather the bank’s rate of the day.
  • I use Which? magazine and its website Which.co.uk to help choose what brands of electronics and appliances to buy. They do comprehensive tests of reliability and value for money. They’ve never led me astray.
  • Otherwise it’s just trial and error for us consumers. Consumer Choice, the magazine of the Consumers’ Association of Ireland, publishes similar reviews.
  • I buy as much stuff online as possible: I get Dermalogica skincare products, which are only available in certain beauty salons and spas, from Care4YourSkin.com, where they are much cheaper (and they arrive at your front door). I use Amazon.co.uk for books, CDs and DVDs; Pixmania.ie is good for electronics and I buy art prints from Allposters.com or Easyart.com who will deliver canvas or framed prints.
  • Earlier this year I had an extension put onto my house and got a new kitchen fitted. I brought my rough plans to one kitchen company and paid them around 150 euros to do up a full CAD drawing with computer images of what the kitchen would look like, then emailed it round six or seven different companies for quotes. The dearest was twice the price of the cheapest. Many companies around the country are willing to deliver and fit in Dublin and are usually much cheaper than ones based in the capital.
  • I use websites like Laterooms.com and Wotif.com to get discounted hotel rooms. I’m so disorganised it’s always last minute anyway when I’m booking a holiday that it works for me but if you like to have everything sorted months in advance it’s not ideal.
  • I stock up on painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen when I’m in the North or Britain. Boots and Tesco have several different lines of own-brand versions in the UK that they don’t have here that are much cheaper, and it’s the same active ingredient. You can get paracetamol for as little as 1p a tablet when the cheapest here is more than 8c each. You can also get some medicines that are prescription-only here over the counter there, which saves on the 40 or 50 quid it costs going to the doctor.
  • Unless I have a memory lapse, I always clear my credit card when the bill comes in. I tend to use it only to book tickets, reserve hotels and when buying valuable items so they are covered by the card insurance. I don’t use it as a loan facility as the interest rates are so high and I’m freaked out by big debt (my large mortgage is something I manage to block out of my head most of the time). I love denying the bank any interest payments so when I forget to pay on time it really bugs me.
  • When the lovely people at the insurance company send me my annual renewal and have bumped up my premium I always call them. The first year I phoned all the other providers to get quotes and told my insurer how much cheaper I could get it elsewhere. The second year I didn’t go to the bother and just said I could get it much cheaper elsewhere and they immediately dropped the price. It seems to me like they pick any number out of the air and are leaving the ball in the customer’s court as to whether they bother to quibble with them or not.
  • These are personal top tips, and are not necessarily endorsed by The Sunday Times.

The complete series listing of Top Tips for Irish Consumers is now available here.

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