At this time of year, TV, newspapers and the Internet are all full of "New Year New You" stories about saving money, losing weight, getting a better job and so on.
Well, at bonkers.ie, we're certainly not above hopping on the bandwagon! In fact we thought it'd be a little strange if we didn't put together a New Year list of money savings tips. We are a best deals website after all.
So in the spirit of a prosperous 2012, we give you our list of 12 New Year money saving tips and we hope you find some of them useful.
Those darn direct debits
Every month a bunch of companies reach into our bank accounts and grab fistfuls of our cash. Insurance, broadband, electricity, gas, mobile, credit cards – heck, even the TV license people are trying to get us to set up a rolling direct debit. And the guys that we trust to look after all this? Helping themselves to our money too.
Our little New Year’s list of cash saving ideas is by no means comprehensive and is in no particular order, but we think a terrific place to start is with your direct debits. Take a look at who’s taking your cash every month and then see if you can’t get yourself a better deal for the same stuff from that company or someone else.
Loyalty is rarely rewarded
Just because you’ve been with your bank or your insurance company or whatever for 20 years, doesn’t mean that they are giving you any special treatment in return. In fact, they are probably doing exactly the opposite and saving their special deals and discounts for new customers, while cranking some extra cash out of good old reliable you. But you needn’t put up with it. Take a stand! There are now loads of companies competing for nearly everything you spend your cash on. Why pay more than you need to?
Free current accounts used to be the norm, but now qualifying for free banking is almost as complicated as avoiding Ryanair fees. There are all sorts of requirements for free banking and they range from doing multiple online transactions, to keeping a minimum balance of €3,000 at all times. So it's hardly surprising that a standard current account customer is forking out around €86 per year in fees and charges.
What is strange though is how few of us switch our current accounts. The Central Bank says that in a year, less than 2 accounts per thousand are switched even though fees and charges keep going up. It's probably because we have so much tied up in our current accounts that we figure it’ll be torture to switch.
But it isn’t difficult at all. Ok, it's a bit of hassle and you'll have to visit your bank, but the Central Bank made a Switching Code that the banks have to obey. It says that your old bank has to help you switch to your new bank and even help with your direct debits and payments. Isn’t that nice.
So which one should you switch to? Well, of the big Irish banks, AIB has the lowest fee for a standard current account at €4.50 per quarter, and they have the easiest way to avoid it. But the only bank that really has a fee-free current account is Ulster Bank.
If you aren’t able to jump through all the hoops of fire necessary to qualify for free banking from your current bank, switching could save you at least €7 per month.
Ugh… credit card interest is horrible. And our Christmas credit card statements are on the way. We have nearly 2 million credit cards in our wallets and a shocking average debt of €1,300 per person. And that’s without adding the Christmas splurge. It means that we’re kicking about €260 to the banks every year in credit card interest alone! And they still make money every time we spend on the things. This needs to stop!
So, we all know that most of the Irish banks are not giving out new cards, but some of the overseas guys say that they are, and they have balance transfer deals to help you tackle some of that principle instead of just paying off the interest.
The Tesco Visa Card has six months interest free on balance transfers which could save customers €130 or more in interest. Ulster Bank has a 3.9% balance transfer deal for a year which is actually better as it’ll save you over €200 in interest. Even the Permanent TSB Ice Visa is offering six months interest free and they say they’re giving out new cards too. Why not give them a call and ask? What have you got to loose? Except all that money of course!
Prepay Visa and Mastercards
Get one of these and cut up your real one! You can only spend money you actually have with prepay “credit” cards (unless you top them up with another credit card, but that would defeat the purpose a bit). They can even pay for themselves. Here’s how. The only way you can avoid Ryanair’s €6 per trip charge is with a prepay Mastercard. The Moneybookers Prepay Mastercard card has an annual membership fee of €10. You’ll save €12 on a roundtrip by booking with this card. And they don’t charge transaction or top-up fees. Voila!
Energy Energy Energy
We all know we should switch and if you’re reading this on bonkers.ie, chances are you already have… at some stage. But the energy companies will get ya just like the banks will. Here’s how: most introductory discounts last for just one year and then you go on to standard rates!
So if you switched in… say October 2010, you took a super-double-whammy in October 2011 when electricity prices went up by 14%, gas prices went up by more than 20% and your introductory discounts expired. Ouch!
So it’s time to check for a good deal again. Really, you can still knock more than €250 off average gas and electricity bills, even if you’ve already switched.
More Energy – Service your boiler
Here’s a good one, and it comes straight from the horse’s mouth. According to Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, a regularly serviced boiler runs more efficiently and uses less energy to heat your water and your home. I could have figured that one out, but anyway, here’s the good news. Prices for a gas boiler service vary, but ESB Electric Ireland is currently running a special introductory rate of €69 for a service which is terrific because SEI reckons you’ll save €150 on your gas bills with your boiler running in tip-top condition.
Most of us pay our car insurance and tax in the first few months of the year. We can’t do much about the tax, but we can certainly try to bring down the cost of insurance.
Despite ads from brokers trying to convince you otherwise, there are actually no comprehensive car insurance comparison services in Ireland. So until we have one for you on bonkers.ie, you're going to have to do a bit of legwork yourself. But it's worth it. A quick and easy way to make sure you’re not paying too much when you receive your renewal letter is to call three companies and get quotes from each. If they are able to beat your renewal quote, call your own insurance company and ask them to match or beat it. If they won’t, switch. If you’ve never done this before, you should be able to save €100 or more.
Ditch the car
Lets face it. The government loves cars. They tax the bejaysus out of them when you buy them, when you put fuel in them, when you insure them and of course when you tax them! So it’s quite a surprise that the government didn’t axe the Cycle to Work Scheme in the last budget.
If your employer is participating, you can get a totally decent commuter bike with all the luminous yellow gear you can manage up to a grand in value for about €500. Then that’s pretty much it. No tax, no insurance, no petrol, minimal repairs, park wherever you like and so on. Just watch out for bike thieves and people in Land Rovers who won't cycle themselves for fear of people in Land Rovers.
Phone & broadband
Loads of us are paying for line rental, calls and broadband separately. And of course this means that we’re paying too much. We know it, we just haven’t got around to sorting it yet.
Now’s the time though. New broadband deals from companies like Digiweb and Eircom mean that for as little as €40 per month, we can have fast “Next Generation” broadband and calls to Irish and international landlines, with line rental included.
Switching to one of these plans from an old DSL deal will usually save about €20 per month. And of course the DSL companies know you don’t need a landline or line rental, which is why they are totally re-branding. Vodafone, in their eagerness, to calm our cultural fear of paying line rental even go so far as to say “NO LINE RENTAL!” and then in small print “It’s included in the price”. Ahem.
TV & Bundling
Craig Doyle may be on just about every channel but in all fairness to UPC, their deals are fantastic.
If you’re in a UPC area, check out their bundles. They start at €60 per month for TV, phone, broadband and calls. They say they’ll save you hundreds, and they’re right. Plenty of us are paying over €60 per month for just internet and phone and then more again for TV. If you don’t want TV, they’ll do the broadband and phone for €40.
Most of us think we need a degree in advanced maths to understand mobile phone plans, so most of us don’t shop around. We should though. There are now seven mobile operators out there and the competition to get you to switch is fierce.
New operators like Tesco are offering 200 minutes and 200 texts per month for less than €20 and that includes some data for light (ok very light) internet use and sending the occasional picture (and they mean occasional!). If you switch you can even keep your number. A good place to research mobile plans is callcosts.ie.
Is that twelve yet? Have you actually made it this far? Super. Well, I’ve run out of ideas so Happy New Year and we wish you a very prosperous 2012.