Pricewatch is as mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more. Between Seán Fleming telling the nation to shop around for better value and Eamon Ryan suggesting people might take shorter showers, money saving tips are 10 a penny these days.
Suddenly, everyone seems keen to hop on the penny-pinching bandwagon.
Well, we’re not going to stand for it – we were here first and that is why we have decided to devote the entire page to money-saving tips this week. Take from it what you will and don’t be surprised if you hear a Government Minister suggesting you follow some of them by the end of the week.
Although if you hear any of them suggesting we use heavily soured milk to make a nice cake or knit spare bits of string into a nice dishcloth, you’ll know we are all in very serious trouble.
1. Switch your energy provider. If you haven’t; done it, do it today. Even in an era of rising prices you can still see as much as 40 per cent knocked off you annual bills.
2. Phone in your meter readings today. Both ESB Networks and Gas Networks Ireland try and read households’ electricity and gas meters every few months but between readings or if they can’t access the meter, an estimate is used. According to the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, around half of all gas and electricity customers do not submit a meter reading of their own over a 12-month period. We can almost hear you ask, so what? Well, if your usage has been underestimated of late and you phone in an accurate reading after price hikes come in, then you will pay for the energy previously used at the higher prices coming down the tracks. But if you give an accurate reading before the price hikes come in, you will pay at the lower price that is there now.
3. Do you need the heat on now? Really? It’s nearly summer, after all, so would you not be better off just sticking on an extra jumper if you are a bit cold?
4. Even in the depths of winter, you can make savings on your heating by knocking just 1 degree off your thermostat. Depending on where you live, that simple measure could reduce your heating bills by between 3 and 10 per cent.
5. Don’t heat your house if you are not in it or if you are just about to leave it. Turn off the heating at least 30 minutes before you plan to leave.
6. Never light rooms that you’re not in.
7. Only ever run your washing machines or your dishwasher when they are full.
8. Do you really need to tumble dry your clothes? Would you not be better off buying a clothes horse or using the clothes line if you have access to such thing?
9. Would you consider having a shorter shower in the morning? What’s that? Eamon Ryan has already covered that one? Grand so, we’ll move on. He is right thought. No dawdling in there.
10. Never leave your electrical goods on standby.
11. Only turn on the immersion if you actively like burning money or if you really need a bath and have no other way of heating your water. And if you do turn it on, don’t forget that you have done so and make sure to turn it off when you have all the hot water you need. It’ll be the poor house for you otherwise.
12. Washing clothes at 30 degrees will save money and do less damage to your clothes. Detergents are pretty good these days, so you probably don’t need the higher temperatures.
13. While we’re on the topic, the economy settings on all other appliances will do what they say and help you economise.
14. When shopping for food, only buy what you need and don’t be tempted by special offers or the shiny displays in your local supermarket. Such displays are designed to trick you and not help you.
15. Before you leave the house and head to the shops, check your presses, your fridge and your freezer to see what you already have. Then make a list based on what you have and what you are likely to want to eat. Write the list in the notes app on your phone, or write it on your computer or laptop if it is easier, and then mail it to yourself. Paste the mail into the notes app. Then as you get each item delete if from the list. It is a strangely satisfying way to shop and concentrating on what is on your list means you are less likely to be distracted by all the shiny things the supermarket is trying to sell you.
16. Do you really need the trolley? If you are only going into the shop for milk and bread then do you really even need a basket? We are conditioned to spend more when we are pushing a big trolley or if we have a basket to put stuff in. So if you only want one or two things, just get the one or two things. Then your hands will be full and you will have no choice but to leave.
17. Use your freezer better. If you are not going to use the full sliced pan before it gets all mouldy then put a few slices into a bag – hard to top the Ikea ones made out of bamboo – and stick them in the freezer
18. While this page has long been a convert to own-brand products, we’re not saying they are all lovely; there is some awful own-brand stuff but there is also some very high-quality stuff that typically sells for 30 per cent less than the branded equivalent.
19. Serve meals in communal bowls. For reasons we can’t explain, we are all far less likely to use leftovers if they have come from other people’s plates than if then have been sitting in serving bowls on the table. It doesn’t matter if you have shared a bed with the same person for 40 years, once a potato has touched their plate it is off limits. Communal bowls have the added advantage of ensuring people do not overeat simply because food is on their plate. They can give themselves what they want and then the rest can be used for leftovers.
20. Shop locally – we know that it is hard for small shops to compete on price with multinational retailers but they do have advantages. You can buy exactly what you need. and if we don’t make a conscious decision to support them, they will go out of business. And they can also save you money. When it comes to eating on the cheap, your local butcher is your friend. He knows what the best-value meat is and how to cook it. If he offers to cut or trim cheap meat for you, say yes.
21. What we give with one hand, we take away with the other. Eat less meat – sorry local butcher! When making stew, bulk it out with pulses and grains. They cost less and are better for you.
22. Porridge is cheap, good for you and the best-value superfood you will find anywhere. And if you’re dithering about what brand to buy, just go with Flahavan’s – excellent quality and Irish. We have said it before and we will say it again. Shop local. We all benefit when you do.
23. To make wise shopping decisions, you need your larder to be free from clutter. So, once every two months, carry out an audit of your dried food and make an effort to use the tinned goods, packets, herbs and spices. Websites such as supercook.com are a bit of craic. You enter your ingredients and it will come up a list of recipes for you. A fig, beetroot and tuna tagine with a smoked paprika rice might not sound amazing but it will be novel and sure what’s the worst that can happen?
24. Do not be tempted to buy stuff you don’t want or won’t use just because it is on special, and avoid bulk-buying perishables – seven heads of lettuce for the price of three may look like great value but it won’t look so clever when the soggy lettuce is in your bin.
25. Supermarkets discount thousands of euro worth of stock late in the day because it has reached its sell-by or use-by date. Buy food, bread or milk on the cheap and freeze it.
26. Never take perishable items such as milk, yoghurt or butter from the front of the shelf. Take the stock that is packed behind – it will have a longer shelf life. We appreciate that if everyone did this then it wouldn’t work, but if it was just you and Pricewatch, then it’d be grand.
27. The best way to save money when it comes to cars is not to use them. If you could reduce the amount of time you used your car by 20 per cent – by walking or cycling maybe – then you will knock €220 off your annual costs. And at the risk of being a cycling bore, have we mentioned how much money you will save by cycling and how much longer you will live? We have? Okay well, just bear it in mind.
28. Knocking even 5 cent off the price you pay for fuel, meanwhile, will save you another €60 over the course of a year. And how might you do that? First, get out of the habit of throwing €20 or €40 worth of fuel into your car or filling it. Instead, buy a set number of litres, which will make you aware of the price gaps between forecourts. Check out pumps.ie for prices in your neighbourhood. You can also save money by changing the way you drive. Do not over-rev your engine, drive in the right gear and keep your boot empty. Keep tyres at the right pressure, get the car serviced, do not use air conditioning and remove roof racks.
29. When it comes to car insurance, you have to be brazen. If you don’t ask for a discount, a company is never going to offer it to you.
30. Excesses can save you money, particularly when it comes to car insurance.
31. Obviously you should never lie to an insurance company and if you do, you may save money but you could invalidate your policy. Actually, lie about one thing. Tell your insurer you have shopped around and plan to take your business elsewhere. See what they come back with.
32. Shop around for health insurance and switch when you can. Check out corporate plans and remember you can join any plan irrespective of the plan name.
33. If you are in good health, consider taking on small excesses which could reduce your costs by anything from €500 to €1,000 depending on the plan held. These excess are mostly per claim, not per night and they only apply to private hospital admissions.
34. Make sure to claim the tax relief on the cost of health expenses. There is 20 per cent tax back on the table for health and medical expenses and non-routine dental expenses.
35. There are many people out there who have life assurance policy tied to their mortgage. A decent chunk of them may have taken out the policy with the bank who gave them their mortgage. There is sure to be better value out there and if you could knock even a tenner off your monthly bill, the savings over the course of a 20-year mortgage would run into the thousands.
…And the rest
36. Speaking of mortgages, have you considered switching? We’re guessing you haven’t. Most of us haven’t, even though there is serious money on the table for many people who make the move. According to the most recent mortgage switching index from online mortgage brokers doddl.ie, Irish homeowners are needlessly handing over up to €4,258 in extra mortgage repayments per year by not switching lenders. The company’s MD Martina Hennessy recently assured Pricewatch that the switching process is nowhere near as complex as getting a mortgage. “[Banks] do have to do their due diligence but for switchers they have streamlined the process,” she says. “You already have a mortgage and can prove you can afford the mortgage, and provided the situation hasn’t changed then there should be no real problems. She estimates that switching takes “eight days from start to finish, with the bulk of the work simply pulling the paperwork together”. Someone switching a €300,000 mortgage from the dearest provider on the market to the cheapest could be looking at savings of in excess of €8,000 over five years, which is not too shabby for eight days’ work.
37. Spend an hour or two going through your bank account online, paying close attention to all the direct debits, standing orders and subscription services you are paying for. Ask yourself if they represent good value for money and if you are actually using them. If the answer is no to any of them, cancel.
38. Sometimes the easiest way to make savings is to make a fuss. If you are getting your broadband and television from Company A, then call then and threaten to leave. There is a very good chance they will offer you some class of financial incentive to stay with them. And if they do not, then leave.
39. Top-of-the-range smartphones now cost more than €700, a very high price. Consider buying a phone from two years ago; the pace of change has slowed, and there is not much difference except for the price. If you can buy a handset outright for less than €300 and go for a 30-day contract or a pre-pay SIM, you will save money and improve flexibility.
40. Embrace “spend nothing” days. 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.
Wisdom of the ages
Money-saving tips are not new. In fact they have been with us for more than a century, as British author Hunter Davies wrote a book more than a decade ago with the arresting title Cold Meat and How to Disguise It, a look back at 100 years of belt-tightening. In the book he documented many of the top tips that had been trotted out over the 20th Century. At the time Pricewatch spoke to him and we still remember some of the tips that he saved from oblivion in his book. It is worth recalling some of the, um, best (?) of them.
Turning off lamps – and radio sets too – when you leave a room should be a matter of habit. Two hours’ waste of your radio every day uses up half a hundredweight of coal a year at the power station. – Fuel Sense Saves Money (1940)
The housewife would never get rough hands if she kept a box of ordinary starch on the sink. Every time she puts her hands in water she should dip them in starch and rub for a minute. – The Best Way Book (1914)
Never throw sour milk away. For mixing cakes it is preferable to fresh milk and produces lighter cake. If very sour and thick, beat it up with a little water. – Household Hints (1902)
Save all pieces of string that come round parcels of all kinds. Knot them together and wind into a ball and knit excellent dishcloths – the knots help to get the burnt marks off pudding dishes. – The Best Way Book (1914)
In every economical house, the knitting basket should be an institution and all the girls should be taught to knit. Knitted woollen stockings are not only more durable than bought stockings, but they promote the circulation better and so are preventative of cold feet and chilblains. – Domestic Economy (1896)
An anti-freckle lotion can be made by mixing together equal parts of glycerine and lemon juice and adding a pinch of borax. – The Best Way Book (1914)
There are many ways of cutting up the remains of cold meat. Divide it into fancy shapes such as cutlets or fingers; the dish will be more pleasing in appearance. – Mrs Beeton’s All About Cookery (1920s)