Tag Archives | Personal Finance

Consumer Affairs / Personal Finance newspaper columnists – a listing

I’m trying to put together a listing of journalists writing in the area of consumer affairs and personal finance. Here’s who I’ve come up with so far:

  • Conor Pope – Pricewatch, The Irish Times, Monday
  • Paul Cullen – The Irish Times
  • Gareth Naughton – The Sunday Tribune, Sunday
  • Charlie Weston – The Irish Independent, Tuesday
  • Tina Leonard – The Irish Independent (Smart Consumer), Thursday
  • Ben Dunne – The Irish Sun, Saturday
  • Dermott Jewell – The Irish News of the World, Sunday
  • Niall Brady & John Cradden – The Sunday Times, Sunday
  • Kathleen Barrington – The Sunday Business Post, Sunday
  • Louise McBride – The Sunday Independent, Sunday
  • Eddie Hobbs – The Irish Daily Star, Thursday
  • Emma Kennedy – Sunday Business Post, Sunday
  • Nick Web, The Sunday Independent, Sunday
  • Niamh Hennessy, The Irish Examiner
  • Colm Rapple, The Irish Examiner

Am I missing anyone else? I don’t believe there is anyone specifically covering this kind of thing in The Irish Examiner. Not sure about the Irish Daily Mail.


Insurance You Don’t Need?

Every consumer’s personal circumstances can be diverse, it’s critical to review all the specifics of your situation before making a choice about whether or not to buy certain types of insurance. It’s vital to evaluate the risk against the actual cost you’re actually paying for the protection.

These are Top Tips to make you think – not necessarily act. We’re not advising that you cancel any of the following types of insurance. You should study your own circumstances, carry out more detailed research, and then make your decision. Get professional advice if necessary.

Extended Product Warranties – These “extended warranties” are usually worth skipping. A service contract is simply a promise to perform or pay for certain repairs or services. Service contracts often duplicate what’s provided in the standard warranty you get with a car or an appliance. Read your regular warranty carefully. Then compare it to the service contract. Sometimes, you can purchase service contracts later, when the original warranty expires.

Extra policies for specific items – These items may include portable items, normally stored in your house such as jewellery, bicycles or laptop computers. Buying separate policies to cover such things may not be your best choice. While some policies provide added liability coverage and other features, check out if supplemental coverage is already available through your existing home insurance policy. A major reason is cost. Think of it as buying in bulk. When you add a “rider” to an existing policy, it usually costs less than trying to buy a whole new policy. Also, many of these “things that move” are already covered by your home insurance, albeit at less-than-ideal levels.

Insurance on items on items you’ve just purchased – We’ve all experienced the situation where you’ve just bought a TV, a mobile phone, a PDA or other small electronics equipment, and you’re offered insurance by the kind sales people. I’ve experienced a situation where someone’s told me that the item is prone to breaking and that I’d be better off insuring it – I canceled my purchase immediately instead. You don’t need this insurance – the manufacturers warranty will cover the item breaking, and your home insurance will cover it in your home.

Loan Protection Insurance – This insurance is often pushed on consumers when taking out a loan. The most important thing to remember about credit insurance is that a lender cannot make you buy it. This insurance is for a situation where the policy will pay the lender if you can’t. So why would you want to pass on credit insurance? Consider the likelihood of you not being able to pay, and if you were to lose your regular income? And in such a situation, how likely is it that you won’t quickly find a new job? How much long term savings do you have that you could dip into for a short period if absolutely necessary? There are more sensible and cheaper alternatives than taking out this kind of insurance.

Credit Card Payment Protection Insurance – Similar to Loan Protection Insurance above – evaluate the risk of you being unable to pay your debts at all in the future.

Mortgage protection insurance – It’s more expensive than it’s worth. Besides, you could do better with another policy – one that you might already have. These policies are designed to make your mortgage payments if you die or become disabled. If you’re worried about burdening your heirs with mortgage payments, you’d be better off buying straight life insurance. Adding onto your existing life insurance policy is less expensive than mortgage life.

Health Insurance – In 2006, Brendan Burgess of AskAboutMoney.com, in an article about insurance you might not need, that “you should not take out health insurance if you’re healthy – a young, fit non-smoker, for example. If you’re an older person, and a smoker with a medical history, you should probably take out health insurance, because it’s the same price.” Mr. Burgess added “There’s also this stupid element where the health insurer pays your doctors’ bills. You shouldn’t insure for routine expenses that might be €50 to €250 in a year, but are unlikely to be above that.” The insurance premium may quite likely be more than the benefit you receive.

Additional Extras when Hiring a Car – When you rent a car, you’re going to be offered additional insurance, and it’s not cheap. But does your own car insurance cover you for driving other cars anyway? If you’ve booked by credit card, will the sometimes automatic insurance provided by your card provider provide you cover instead?

Life insurance – Do you have any dependants? Life insurance is money that goes to people who count on your income. If you’re single with no kids, you probably don’t need life insurance. If your spouse is employed and can support himself or herself, you probably don’t need it.

AA or RAC Membership – This is insurance really against your car breaking down. But check your car insurance policy – most companies now include breakdown cover as part of the overall insurance package they give you.

Pet Insurance – I know, I know. But really, think about it.

Having reviewed all of the above, and you find that there’s still insurance that you need to buy (home insurance), or that you’re obliged to buy (car insurance and life assurance for mortgage purposes) then make sure you shop around to get the best deal.

Don’t lose control of your finances

Just one Top Tip for today which was was something that I mentioned to someone last week when I was asked for some tips following the budget. Interesting, this topic came up in an article in New York Times over the weekend as well.

The Top Tip is to “Live Within Your Means”.

In the past week, we’ve seen so much happen in the past week since the budget and the huge controversy over the over-70’s medical cards, the growing uproar over the 1% income levy, and the developments today over the education cutbacks.

Lots of people are concerned for so many reasons – but these things are mainly outside of our own control. While we’re right to be concerned, there’s not that much that we can do about the governments budget decisions.

The key thing to living within your means is to not lose sight these days of the financial matters that you do have control over – your day to day financial expenses and spending.

  • Don’t ignore your bills – even though might be looking bleak, you don’t need to make them any worse by leaving bills unpaid because you’re uncertain about the future.
  • Watch your day to day spending – keep control over where you’re spending your money. Don’t waste money on unnecessary spending, and where ever possible, make sure you shop around.
  • Have a quick financial review – Take an hour or so to review your financial position. You should follow our Top Tips here to make sure you’re looking after your financial situation as best as you can.
  • Review Insurance Requirements – One of the biggest expenses you have consistently every year is insurance – car, home, travel or health. Coming towards the end of the year or the beginning of next year, many of these policies will come due for renewal – review your policies, make a few calls to get alternative quotes and see if you can save yourself a few quid.
  • Electricity & Gas Costs – Last week the top tips were on saving money on your gas and electricity bills. Given a further expected Bord Gais price increases, this is more important than ever.
  • Save Money where ever you can – There are some people who may actually be better off following the budget following the change to the mortgage interest relief. You may also have been able to save money if you’ve followed some of the tips above. However you may have saved yourself some money, make sure you siphon it away and try to have it build up for a rainy day, or a special treat with Christmas coming.
The key thing in all of this is to make sure that despite all of the fuss and bluster going on all around us these days that we don’t lose site of the important day to day things – things that we can have the most impact on ourselves.

Top Tips for Saving Money

It’s a number of years since we originally proposed the “Value Ireland Savings Plan” but it’s worth looking over it again given the way our economy is going at the moment. The plan is a simple idea which revolves around monitoring your expenditure and income on a monthly basis, but with a little twist.

Through the Value Ireland Savings Plan, we propose an idea that will help you save money on a monthly basis, but will also help you cut down many unnecessary expenses that you may incur in day-to-day life. A successful application of the Value Ireland Savings Plan to your day-to-day life will reduce your outgoings and increase your available cash, to do with as you choose.

There are 2 key concepts to the Value Ireland Savings Plan. Firstly, reduce all unnecessary outgoings. Secondly, reward positive money incoming.

Reduce Unnecessary Outgoings

Do you regularly go overdrawn on your bank account and end up paying interest or penalties at the end of the month? Could you be more careful about how you conduct your bank business and reduce the amount of bank fees you pay? Do you find yourself wasting money because you’re too lazy – taking a bus instead of a taxi, or paying for parking instead of walking?

Do you end up paying for plastic bags when out shopping instead of reusing old bags or having a “bag for life”? Or are there other areas in your life where, after spending money on something, you think to yourself, “I wish I hadn’t done that”? It could be as simple buying an occasional packet of cigarettes if you normally don’t smoke.

The first part of the Value Ireland Savings Plan is to keep track of all of these unnecessary outgoings on a weekly basis, and total them up at the end of the month. This total amount is what you should match and put away as savings for that month.

So, if your unnecessary outgoings are exceedingly high, you’ll end up having to put away large amounts of money each month. This may be a difficult thing to do – but while you’re trying to keep your expenditure under control, you’ll be adding decent amounts of money to your savings pile. However, if you stick with it, you’ll find ways to reduce these unnecessary outgoings, reducing the amount of money you waste on a monthly basis.

But you may say, won’t this reduce the amount of money I’m saving each month (because you’ll like the idea of saving money by now)?

Not if you’re following part two of the Value Ireland Savings Plan.

Reward Positive Money Coming In

Through this part of the plan, any money that you receive in a manner that you may consider a bonus, or extra, is recorded on a monthly basis.

So, if you keep your current account in the black, you may receive (probably very small) interest on your money. Or you may explicitly save money though having shopped around for a particular item.

You may have won money on the horses, or the football (though if you loose money, maybe it should be noted in the Unnecessary Outgoings). Or you could have won money on the Lotto or scratch cards (though again, your stake money could be considered an unnecessary outgoing).

The second part of the Value Ireland Savings Plan is to keep track of all of the positive money coming in on a monthly basis, and total them up at the end of the month. This total amount is what you should match and put away as savings for that month.

You may also receive interest on your savings. This is where you’ll win both ways with the Value Ireland Savings Plan.

As you decrease your Unnecessary Outgoings, your Positive Incomings are going to increase – either through money you consider you’ve saved, or through an increase in the interest you receive as you begin saving more and more money. Either way, you’ll be putting away sums of money each month.

Monthly Savings and Spreadsheet Assistance

At the end of each month, you total your Unnecessary Outgoings and your Positive Incomings and put that money away as savings for that month.

How you save that money is up to yourself. Ideally it should be put into an account earning a decent rate of interest where it is relatively difficult to gain access to it. If your savings targets are relatively long term, you might think of putting the money into Prize Bonds (and have another potential for positive incomings if you win).

The spreadsheet, available by clicking here, can help you keep track of your Unnecessary Outgoings and Positive Incomings. You can either manage your money through using this spreadsheet on your PC, or just print out the sheet and fill in by hand.

There is an example page in the spreadsheet also to give an idea how the Value Ireland Savings Plan may work for you.


So, by adding together the money deemed Unnecessary Outgoings and Positive Incomings on a monthly basis, you’ll gain the following benefits –

  • You’ll begin to identify money you’re wasting and start to eliminate it
  • You’ll begin to identify more and more ways to save money in your daily spending
  • You’ll develop a stronger interest in your day to day financial well being
And most importantly, you’ll begin to build up a growing savings nest egg.At the end of it all, how successful the Value Ireland Savings Plan is for you depends on how regularly you monitor your money in and money out, and how strictly you classify how you may be wasting your money through Unnecessary Outgoings.

Through the experience of the promoter of Value Ireland, following this plan has built up a sum of €3500 over the past 4 years. This is purely through following the ideas set out here and is completely independent of any other type of savings or investments.

A nice little sum based on putting away amounts of money each month that you’ll hardly notice, while also helping you manage your expenses.


Top Tips to Avoid Online Scams

According to Wikipedia, phishing is defined as “is a criminal activity using social engineering techniques. Phishers attempt to fraudulently acquire sensitive information, such as passwords and credit card details, by masquerading as a trustworthy person or business in an electronic communication. Phishing is typically carried out using email or an instant message, although phone contact has been used as well. Attempts to deal with the growing number of reported phishing incidents include legislation, user training, and technical measures.”

Always be careful and aware when you’re online – Without the ability to con an individual, technology itself will now be able to successfully scam money out of a persons bank account or credit card. Though there is some technical vulnerability which may aid the con process, it is nearly always down to the vigilance and care of the individual to prevent a con.

Be careful where you use your e-mail address online – One way to avoid financial phishing is to keep your e-mail address private, and not to use it too frequently online. By limiting where you use your e-mail address when registering for different websites etc. you can keep limited the chances of your address being used by scam artists who might get their hands on your address. It may be an idea if you do register frequently for different sites to have a special e-mail address for that purpose, and therefore limit the exposure of your “proper” e-mail address to scammers.

Don’t get upset or worried about the tone of an e-mail – If you receive what looks like a threatening e-mail from your bank, you don’t have to react immediately – when have you ever known a financial institution to react instantaneously? Wouldn’t you expect to receive a letter through the post? Didn’t you receive your online banking credentials through the post originally? If there are any problems, won’t you receive them in the same way next time around? Scam artists depend on getting people upset so they won’t think things through logically in the home that they will react instantaneously. Don’t fall into this trap – think things through.

Don’t give out information that your bank should already have – Phishers will ask for sensitive information that the real company would already have, such as usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, and so on. Your real financial institution will most likely have your real name. Never fill out forms in e-mail that ask for personal information. Give sensitive info only over a secure Web site or by telephone.

Never use an e-mail link to access financial websites – Access the site directly by typing the address into the address bar or use your bookmarks. Scam artists can make links look realistic but which will still take you to a false website. Phishers can make e-mail links do any of the following nasty tricks: Take you to the legit site but sneak in a pop-up window from a phisher’s site that asks for personal info. Or they can direct you to a site that is very similar to the real site where it’s hard to tell the difference.

Look out for errors or mistakes – Is your name spelt correctly? Or is it in an unusual format? Phisher e-mail is generally not personalized, or if it is, contains only the same name you use in your e-mail address. Check the grammar and spellings in the text of the e-mail. Check the name of the financial institution in the e-mail – is it exactly the name of the institution as you normally recognise it?

Always ensure that any site you access is properly secure – Usually, you can tell if you’re on a secure server if the URL begins with https: instead of http: and if you see the security symbol locked in your browser. But phishers can get legitimate-looking certificates and fool people, as happened recently to a credit union in Utah. If you get a warning about a site’s security certificate, read it. If the certificate isn’t valid, don’t go there. Don’t rely entirely on the fact that a URL begins with https:.

Check your accounts balances regularly – Don’t go more than a month without logging in to an online account to check activity. Pay attention if the account tells you when the last time you logged in was. Is that when you really did last log in? The more you check the better. Check your statements from financial institutions, too. If you ever see suspicious activity, contact your bank and card issuers immediately.

Keep your software updated and secure – Keep your browsers and operating system up-to-date with the latest security patches. Windows XP can automatically patch your system, if you set it. If you use Internet Explorer, you should download this patch immediately if you haven’t already. Use antivirus and anti-spyware apps and firewalls and keep them current. Check out the use of personal firewalls as an extra level of security on your machine.

Make sure you use the security features in your software – Tools such as pop-up blockers can be useful in protecting yourself from scams. While sometimes you may think that you’re accessing a site where it’s okay to allow pop-ups, you should make sure that it’s always active.

Don’t respond to phishing e-mails – By responding to such e-mails, you’re letting the scammers know that your e-mail address is active and valid. This will then open you up to a barrage of further e-mails attempting to con you.

Reassure yourself that you’ve identified a scam e-mail – Search the web for the text of the e-mail that you’ve just received – chances are that if it’s dodgy, other people will have reported it, or highlighted it elsewhere online as well.

Block future e-mails from this source – Once you’ve satisfied yourself that you’ve received a phishing e-mail, use the blocking feature in your e-mail application to block any further e-mails from that address. They’ll in future be blocked from your inbox, and won’t cause you any bother in the future.

Use your common sense – Are you expecting an e-mail communication from your bank? Have you even allowed them to use e-mail as a means of communicating with you? When was the last time you accessed your online accounts – were there any problems or issues then? Have you received multiple e-mails all at the same time telling you the same thing – this is a common tactic of some phishing scams.

If in doubt, do nothing – You can always ring up your banks telephone banking service and see if the e-mails you’re receiving are legitimate.


Top Tips for Checking your Change

Last Saturday in Heuston Station, I bought a few things in one of the shops there. I received my change back, had a quick look to make sure it was correct and left the shop. I went to buy a paper in another shop and took out my change to pay for it.

The €2 coin in my pocket that I thought I’d received in the previous shop was actually a Turkish 1 lira coin. They’re remarkably close in how they look, and in their size.

The 1 lira coin above right is actually only worth €0.56. Fair play to the shop concerned, they took back to Turkish coin without any issues. Particularly given that in many shops you now see the sign below.

How many times have you noticed this sign when you’ve out shopping? And how many times have you actually taken heed of the sign and counted your change – or are you like me and have a quick look without actually checking in detail.

Have you been shortchanged recently? Do you think shortchanging is becoming more prevalent? If this Consumer thread on Boards.ie is anything to go by, it very well might be.

Inspired by all this, and to refresh my own memory, check out the following Top Tips For Checking Your Change when out shopping.

  • When paying for items, know yourself in advance how much you’ll have to pay by mentally adding up the cost of the items as you’re selecting them.
  • When handing over money for items, know in advance how much you will expect to get in change – don’t depend on the cashier or the cash register.
  • Be suspicious where the display of the cash register is hidden from view. You should always be able to see this display to see what price are the items that are being rung in, and what you’re total cost is, how much they’re entering in as having received from you, and what your change is.
  • Be extra suspicious of cashiers who keep a small calculator close to the cash register. These can be used to keep a running total of the amount of extra money in the till. With a cash register in front of them, there should be no need for this calculator.
  • Always pay attention to the note that you are handing over to pay for your goods. Know whether or not it was a €10, €20 or €50 etc – and know how much change you should be expecting.
  • Being aware of the money you’ve handed over will strengthen your position if you’re short changed, or you get change of a €10 when you actually handed in a €20. If such a situation occurs, be polite, stand your ground, and if necessary, ask for the manager. Remember that most cash registers are covered now by CCTV so use this if necessary to strengthen your position.
  • When you get your change, don’t feel hurried into walking away from the cashier.
  • Before you move away from the cashier, count your change (notes and coins) to ensure that you’ve been given the correct amount.
  • Be careful to distinguish between €1 and €2 coins, and also between 50c and 20c coins. Turn coins over if needs be to confirm.
  • Only when you’re happy that you’ve received the correct change should you move away from the cashier.
  • If you have not received the correct change, politely address the cashier and explain that you don’t think you’ve received the correct change. Hand back your change, and your receipt, and state what actual money you had handed in originally.
  • Politely explain that you are short by whatever amount, and ask that the cashier checks, and returns the correct change this time.
  • If the cashier is unwilling to assist, give them one further opportunity to address the situation before asking to speak to a manager. Remember, there is always someone in charge, so don’t be put off by such excuses.
  • In this situation, as all others where you need to complain, remember to follow the Value Ireland Tips on How to Complain.
Observations and Things to Watch Out For
  • Unlike in days gone by, change is seldom counted back into your hand by the cashier in a shop, or a barman in a pub. You’re just handed back a lump of notes and change. You shouldn’t let this put you off counting your change before moving on.
  • An observation on a couple of websites where people are talking about being short changed is where a customer has noticed being short changed and has asked for a receipt, or has simply highlighted that they think there is a problem. In some situations, the cashier has immediately handed over extra money without even checking to see if it was incorrect or not. This has indicated to people that the cashier concerned deliberately short-changed them – why else pay over the remaining change immediately. If this happens, you should report your concerns to the manager immediately.
  • Remember that not everyone who may give you incorrect change is out to rip you off. People can make mistakes, and it is your responsibility to ensure that you get your correct change. Always approach people who you think may have made a mistake politely, explaining clearly your concerns.
  • If you are regularly short changed in a particular shop, or by a particular person in a business, on the next time that it happens, ask to speak to their manager. Again, remember that there is always someone in charge, so don’t feel put off by asking to speak to such a person.
  • There are some situations more than others where you may be more likely to be short changed – either intentionally or unintentionally. These may be in very busy shops with a large throughput of customers. Busy cashiers mean a higher possibility of making mistakes.
  • Bars and night clubs are places that are also busy later on in a night, and where there’s an expectation that people with alcohol consumed may not be as weary as sober customers.
  • If you’re out in a pub or night club for a night, and you’re regularly going to the bar, if you’re seen to be regularly checking your change, it’s unlikely that unscrupulous people will try to take advantage of you.
  • While it’s nice to deal with a cashier who is amiable and chatty and passes the time of day with you, don’t let this distract you from your business – paying for goods and checking your change. While not every cashier is out to rip you off, such behaviour may be an attempt to distract you while they short-change you.

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.

The A-Z of Avoiding Rip-off Ireland

  • Act in your own best interests – It’s a big bad rip-off world out there. Businesses are out to rip us off. Some organisations exist that can help us as consumers (Consumers Association, Director of Consumer Affairs, etc.). However, we have to act in our own best interests. If you do feel ripped off, don’t go back and always tell others. Poor word of mouth is a great fear for businesses which can dramatically impact profits. Use www.valueireland.com to communicate to others your purchasing experiences.
  • 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.
  • Check your bills – Whenever you receive a bill – in the post, in a restaurant or garage, always check it thoroughly. Recently on www.valueireland.com, 42% of visitors surveyed admitted to not checking all their bills. Ensure that only items you expect are included – make sure of the numbers. If a service charge is added, ensure that the amount is correct. Finally, always calculate the total yourself to ensure that you’re being charged the right amount.
  • Driving on empty – Be aware of petrol prices on your regular driving routes. Don’t wait until your tank is empty to buy petrol. This reduces your ability to shop around, or to make it to a cheaper petrol station. If you see a cheaper price than you’re used to, fill your tank.
  • Electricity Reserves – Given the relentless increase in electricity costs in Ireland, and the lack of competition in the electricity market, the best way of reducing your electricity costs is to reduce consumption. Use long-life fluorescent bulbs wherever possible. Check your temperature settings to see if they can be reduced a degree or two. If you normally use a dryer, can you hang your clothes to dry and only use the dryer for heavier or “urgent” drying?
  • Favour the brave! – Be confident in situations where you may have to register a complaint or an issue when out shopping and don’t let yourself be bullied. Irish consumers have rights and entitlements, and just because you may be an inconvenience to someone doesn’t mean that these rights and entitlements matter any less. Be familiar with your consumer rights and what you should expect from retailers under current legislation. Many sites, www.valueireland.com included, provide an explanation of the main consumer impacting legislation – the Sale of Goods and Supply of Service Act, 1980.
  • Give alternatives – When in a situation where you have to complain about price, quality or service, be as positive as possible. Explain what your issue is; detail what your expectations were prior to coming into that particular establishment; explain why the reality differed from expectations, and what you would reasonably expect from them to rectify the situation. For example, in a restaurant where your starter was unsatisfactory you could ask for another, ask for a desert at the end instead, at no extra cost. And remember, complain as early as possible – no point finishing the starter, and then complaining.
  • Home Improvements and Repairs – If bringing workmen into your home, rather than randomly picking from the telephone directory, it’s always best to follow recommendations from friends and colleagues. Always get written quotations rather than verbal estimates, and get these from at least 3 different tradesmen to allow you make an informed choice. When dealing with someone new, ask to see trade certifications or references from past customers. Be careful of tradesmen who only accept cash, who aren’t listed in the telephone directory, or ask you to pay up front.
  • Insurance Renewals – Don’t automatically renew any of your insurance policies. Ring 5 or 6 different other companies requesting quotations. Ask for exactly the same coverage as you have already. Ask if there are discounts available, or if any extras are included that you may like, or may wish to have removed to reduce the quote even further. And then go back to your existing insurer and see how much they value your business.
  • Job – When you’re unhappy with the prices, or service or quality, of a product or service you’ve bought, remember that it may not ultimately be the fault of the person that you’re dealing with – they’re only doing their job. There’s no point taking out your frustrations on them. Patiently explain your problem, and then if necessary, ask for the Manager. And remember, there’s always someone in charge.
  • Keep Your Receipts – No matter what you buy, or no matter how confident you are in your purchase, always keep receipts for your purchases. You never know when you may need them to go back to the place of purchase. And always now ask for a receipt in a taxi as well.
  • Letter Box Scams – Unsolicited mail in your letter box promising unbelievable riches or holidays away, or a brand new car, should most likely always be characterised as “if it sounds too good to be true, then it most likely is”. Unfortunately! This is especially true if you have to hand over your hard-earned cash to handle “administration”. Don’t you think that if someone is “giving” you thousands of euros, that they could afford a couple of hundred euros for administration?
  • Mobile Aware – 2 out of the 3 mobile phone providers in Ireland have admitted overcharging customers. Therefore, shouldn’t we all ensure that we know what we’re paying them and what we should be getting for our money? 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.
  • Never impulse buy – Buy now, regret later? If you’re strolling around the shops on a Saturday afternoon, with nothing better to do, be careful of impulse buying. Never buy something you don’t need, could do without, or haven’t researched properly. If you see something you’d like, make a note, think about it, and if you still need/want it next week, go right ahead.
  • Online Credit Card Security – These simple points can help the nervous among you. Only use credit cards on reputable, well known, sites. Always ensure you’re using a secure internet connection (padlock on bottom right of browser window). Ensure that the site you use has a telephone helpdesk and a postal address so that you can follow up on any problems. It may be advantageous to have an “online only” credit card with a lower limit in case details are stolen. Never save your credit card details on any website if you’re the ultra-cautious type.
  • Promotion too good to miss? – Don’t let “sales”, “special offers” or “promotions” cloud your judgment when making purchases. Remember to resist any sales pressure tactics. Don’t let anyone talk you into purchasing something you’re not sure about, especially under the guise of beating an offer deadline or closing date. If you do buy something you actually do want or need, ensure you understand the terms and conditions, and make yourself happy that there is value on offer.
  • Question everything – Always ask as many questions necessary to satisfy yourself that you’re making a correct purchasing decision. That’s what shop assistants are there for – people in shops to assist us make purchases. Many get commission on your purchase – make them earn it. Your questions should include asking about special offers, money-off deals, and anything else they may be able to do for you to entice you to make your purchase in their shop and not down the street. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
  • 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.
  • Supermarket Savvy!!! – 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.
  • Telephone Buzz! – Before changing call providers, you should first review your bills for a number of months and work out your telephone usage. Maybe even ask yourself if you really need a fixed line phone if you already have a mobile phone as well. By better understanding your phone usage, you’ll be in a better position to find the best deal from the many alternatives that are out there today. It may also put you in a position to take advantage of the new trend of selling “bundling” minutes of telephone calls (e.g. peak, off-peak or weekend) on top of your basic line rental cost.
  • Used Cars – Buying a used car can be one of our biggest purchases, and can sometimes be one of the riskiest, if you’re not careful. Always make sure you know what you’re buying – check the relevant documentation. Have an independent person (such as the AA) check out the car for you if you’ve decided you like what you see. A simple thing such as checking out a car at the sellers residence, and getting their landline phone number as opposed to mobile, can give you an extra level of confidence in what you’re getting yourself into.
  • Vocalise your opinions – As a nation, we find it very hard to complain to businesses or service providers if we have a problem. We need to change our ways, and can do this by starting small, and gaining confidence in letting people know our views. A particular www.valueireland.com tip is that if you’ve had an enjoyable experience, why not let the people who’ve served you know? Practicing by giving good feedback to businesses can help us gain confidence when we have to eventually give someone some less than positive feedback.
  • WWW – There are many national and international sites that provide reviews and information on many of the goods, services, and hospitality businesses in Ireland, and allow us purchase them online. The key is to build up as much information as possible in advance so that you can make an informed decision in your own best interests.
  • X for your candidate of choice – If you’re blaming the Government for “Rip-Off Ireland” – make sure you let them know in any forthcoming elections. If you don’t agree with the policies of your Government or the results of their policies on prices, then change your Government. Go out and vote for change, instead of just complaining about it.
  • Your Money – Your Choice – In most things, it’s down to your own personal choice where you spend your money. If you decide to pay a certain amount for a pint, and you enjoy it in pleasant surroundings, with good service, then don’t complain afterwards about the price of the drink. If you don’t want to pay the price, go somewhere else. If you do pay the price (as it’s obviously acceptable to you when you hand over your money), what’s the point in complaining after the fact?
  • Zealous – Defined as “active interest and enthusiasm”. Do we mostly “put up AND shut up” in the face of rip-off tactics by Irish businesses? Should Irish consumers not take more of an “active interest” in their day-to-day shopping experiences in order to avoid these rip-off businesses and to reward those alternative businesses offering value, quality and service? Eventually, though word of mouth, and the use of forum such as www.valueireland.com, the rip-off businesses will lose their customers in droves, and will suddenly realise that they need to something to keep their customers, or else go out of business. As Irish consumers, we have to realise that we have that power to have such an impact on businesses in our own hands, or wallets and purses at least.
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