For many of us, September and the start of the new school year is a better time to assess our lives and start making changes than the new year, when all we feel like doing is hibernating through the long, dark days of January. - Grainne McGuinness
And certainly from a financial point of view, now is much better time to do a health check than after the buzz and spending of Christmas could have left you facing a mountain of debt.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) website www.consumerhelp.ie has a budget planner, which is the perfect place to start your financial health check. It's important to assess your current position to allow you plan for the future. The planner encourages you to list all sources of income for you and your family, including child benefit and any other social welfare. You then list your spending, divided into expenses, paying back debt and savings. Writing it all out allows you to build an overall picture of your financial habits and see where improvements can be made.
If you're about to start a new job or expecting a pay raise then great, but for most people, if gains are to be made it is by re-evaluating outgoings. Mark Whelan of bonkers.ie, an Irish comparison and switching website, has some tips on how to make savings in your outgoings.
"With a washout of a summer coming to a close and winter on the way, consumers should be braced for some high home heating and energy bills this year," Whelan said. "But before the cold weather fully sets in, there are a number of simple measures that can be taken to reduce household gas and electricity bills.
"If a customer hasn't switched gas and electricity suppliers in the last 12 months, the chances are their discounts have expired and they're back on expensive standard rates. There are some attractive discounts on gas and electricity available now, along with sign-up incentives including free boiler services and Tesco vouchers.
"Switching suppliers could save customers up to €333 on their annual energy bills and up to €338 if they switch through bonkers.ie." Whelan also suggested getting a lagging jacket and a Night Saver meter to help reduce bills.
Next look at your mortgage and other debts and see can you make savings. Whelan believes it is one of the best ways to make savings.
"The number of borrowers switching mortgages is slowly increasing, but is still very low." he said. "Not everyone is eligible, but those who are could save thousands of euro over the lifetime of their loan."
Now is also a good time to look at switching your credit card. Some providers will give you at least six months interest free on the balance you transfer, giving you a chance to clear the debt without further cost.
The CPCC suggest keeping a diary of daily spending for a while, to identify areas where you can make savings. "For working out the cost of everyday outgoings like buying lunch, it's a good idea to track your spending over a week or month. Keep receipts and enter the costs in a weekly spending diary."
Use the spending diary on www.consumerhelp.ie to see if there are some daily habits you can change to keep a few extra euro in your pocket at the end of the week.
There is plenty of help managing your money available online and through your smartphone. As mentioned already, both consumerhelp.ie and bonkers.ie are Irish and allow you to compare a range of products. Another great Irish site is totalhealthcover.ie. This site allows you to compare all health insurance providers in the Irish market and also offers advice on related areas such as dental, eye-care, travel insurance and claiming tax back.
There are also many apps to help you take control of your finances. Killbiller will find you the best mobile phone deal while Monefy allows you to track your spending across a range of categories. PriceSpy and Vouchercloud allow you to find the best deals on purchases and take advantage of special offers.
If you are struggling financially there is help available. Go to mabs.ie or call them at 0761-072000 for help with dealing with debt and getting back on a sound footing.