Follow these tips to help get your finances off to a good start in 2024.
The past two years have seen consumers having to contend with high inflation, rising interest rates, record energy prices and economic uncertainty.
As a result, many of us have made New Year's resolutions to try to improve our finances, which have taken a bit of a battering over the past while.
If you're one of these people, take a look at our top money tips that we think everyone should follow in 2024.
1. Do something with your savings
If you have savings you should make it a priority to look at getting a better return for your money.
Irish households have around €150 billion resting on deposit at the moment and the vast majority is in accounts that are paying little or no interest. This is despite rates of 3% now being on offer from the main Irish banks and rates of 4% and higher on offer through platforms like Raisin or Trade Republic.
And of course there are other options for your savings. You could top up your pension, invest in a retrofit for your home, or pay off some of your mortgage. Whatever you do, make sure your hard-earned savings aren’t left doing nothing.
The good news is that you can easily compare the best interest rates from all the main providers in Ireland on bonkers.ie.
You might also like this article which discusses various different options for your money.
2. Build up an emergency fund
Of course, not everyone has savings.
Ideally, you should aim for a rainy day fund that’s equal to six to nine months of your net disposable income.
So if you take home €3,000 a month, you should build up an emergency fund of at least €18,000.
For a lot of people, that may be well beyond their capability. But even just one month’s savings in a rainy day fund is better than nothing at all.
These days it’s pretty easy to set up a savings account with your bank online. Or you can set one up with your local Credit Union.
Try pay a fixed regular amount each month (set up a standing order) and set it up so that your savings are paid in as close to payday as possible so you’re less likely to miss the money!
3. Get a tax refund
Everyone should file a tax return each January. From medical expenses and tuition fees, to working-from-home relief, mortgage interest relief and the new rent credit, there’s lots to claim for.
Also, make sure you’re not missing out on any tax credits you might be entitled to. Despite what some people think, Revenue doesn’t know everything about you! So if your circumstances have changed (you’ve got married, been widowed, or are looking after a dependant etc) let Revenue know so that it can apply all the credits you’re entitled to.
Irish workers overpay by hundreds of millions each year by not claiming what’s rightfully theirs. Make sure you’re not one of them.
4. Cull subscriptions
Spotify. YouTube Premium. Netflix. Disney+. Dropbox. NOW TV. Audible. Apple TV+. Amazon Prime. Tinder. Bumble. xBox Game Pass. Newspaper subscriptions.
How may of these are you paying for and how many do you really use?
Do an audit of all your subscriptions and cancel those you're no longer regularly using.
A handy tip to remember is that there are no sign-up fees for any video streaming services and most are on a 30-day, rolling contract so you can cancel at any time for free.
So if you don't think you'll be watching anything for a while, just cancel your subscription and save some money. You can then resubscribe a few months later when a new show piques your interest. With most of the providers, your account data and viewing history will remain intact for at least a year.
And in some cases, if you threaten to leave, you'll be offered a sweet deal to make you stay.
5. Stop fearing repair and maintenance work
Prevention is the best cure as they say. Yet many of us put off looking after our main appliances, either out of fear or sometimes due to laziness, only to pay the price when they break down.
Here are some pointers for some of the main appliances in your home:
- Get a regular boiler service to ensure your boiler remains in good condition. An inefficient boiler not only costs you money but it can also be dangerous. For gas, most of the main suppliers offer a boiler service, sometimes free of charge to those who switch, so check in with them. Only ever get a Registered Gas Installers of Ireland (RGII) certified engineer to look at your boiler.
- Regularly clean your dishwasher. Remove the filter at the bottom of the dishwasher every month and wash it in warm soapy water to get rid of any food debris. And gently clean the spray arms (do not try to remove these though). Then run a hot cycle using baking soda and vinegar or a dishwasher cleaner.
- Your washing machine needs some regular TLC too. Every few months make sure you pull out and clean the filter in warm soapy water. Place a towel under the filter as up to a litre of water will likely spill out when you open it. The detergent tray should be cleaned too. Then run a hot cycle of at least 60º using a washing machine cleaner. And when you take your clothes out of the machine after a wash, leave the door open for a while so that the drum can fully dry/air out. This helps prevent smells and bacteria developing. And never overload the washing machine. Along with not cleaning the filter, this is the main reason for machines breaking down.
- If there's one thing people hate cleaning the most it's probably the oven. But burnt-on food and grease can not only affect the performance of your oven, it can also be a fire and smoke hazard. Try clean your oven every few months. Wipe/hoover up any debris from the bottom of the oven and then remove the racks and place them in the washbasin or even the dishwasher to clean. Then scrub the oven with a good specialised oven cleaner. Also consider getting some heavy-duty oven liners for the prevention of drips and spills onto your oven base. It'll make cleaning far easier in the future.
6. Cut down on cash use if possible
Recently the Government announced plans to protect the role of cash in the economy, which you can read more about here.
But using cash regularly can cost you extra when paying.
The Government charges you 12 cent stamp duty every time you make a cash withdrawal (up to a maximum of €5 a year which your bank collects from your account each January). On top of this AIB will charge you 35 cent for every ATM withdrawal and An Post Money will charge you 60 cent. Withdraw money with Revolut and you could be charged €1 or more.
If you withdraw cash three times a week with AIB it would cost you almost €60 a year in ATM fees alone.
It’s usually cheaper and often more convenient to pay with your card or smartphone instead.
7. Get pension savvy
Make sure you’re at least paying into a pension. If not, your first port-of-call should be your employer. Ask if they offer one. The best employers will match your own contributions up to a certain limit. So if you save 5% of your salary each month they'll also put in 5%.
And even if your employer doesn’t offer a pension, they need to provide you with access to a PRSA (personal retirement savings account) of your own and deduct your contributions at source from your wages (so that you can get tax relief on your contributions) if you request it.
For those with a pension, check to see how it’s performing. Look at increasing your contributions if you can. Remember you’ll get tax relief at up to 40% on any contributions you make up to a certain limit so it won't be as difficult as you think.
See what funds your pension savings are invested in and the corresponding charges. Ideally you should aim for 100% allocation on your contributions and a fund management charge of less than 1.5%. If the charges are too high, look at putting your pension savings into a different fund. And if you have several different pensions from different employers over the years, consider consolidating them.
If all this is a bit too much to take in, you can engage with the services of a qualified financial advisor to help you.
If you're new to pensions or just want to brush up on your knowledge, check out this guide.
8. Get on top of any (credit card) debt
Credit cards have their uses.
Most cards provide up to 56 days’ interest-free credit – as long as you pay your bill in full and on time of course. So for people who need short-term access to credit or who might need an emergency source of funds at certain times throughout the year they have their uses.
But they're expensive forms of debt. You're charged €30 every year by the Government in stamp duty and interest rates can be as high as 20% or more.
If you've built up a balance on your card, look for ways to reduce it.
Several providers offer 0% interest on balance transfers so switching can certainly help you tackle your card debt.
Bank of Ireland’s Platinum Advantage and Classic credit cards offer 0% interest for seven months for example and PTSB offers 0% for six months. Just be sure you use the time to clear your balance and not rack up more debt. Also, be mindful of what the rate reverts to after the initial interest-free period is up. The interest rate on purchases can vary widely from as low as 13.8% with the AIB Click card to well over 20% with some of the other providers.
If you switch credit card provider, then look past all the cashback incentives, reward schemes and extras and focus on the interest rate first and foremost. As this is what the card is going to cost you.
However, if you don’t use your credit card much, it might be time to ask if you need one at all.
One of the key selling points of credit cards used to be that you could use them almost anywhere in the world – either in person or online. So if you were booking a car rental, a hotel, or shopping online, your card could always be used. However with the introduction of Visa and Mastercard debit cards in Ireland well over a decade ago, which are accepted pretty much anywhere and everywhere worldwide, this advantage has pretty much gone. You still hear of the odd car rental company or hotel requiring a credit card as a deposit but it’s getting rarer and rarer.
9. Switch and save
The average household could have up to a dozen bills to pay each month such as their mortgage, car insurance, home insurance, health insurance, broadband, TV, mobile, bins, and gas and electricity. Ask yourself if you think you’re getting the best value for money from each provider?
There is an element of truth to the 80/20 rule which says that businesses make 80% of their profit from 20% of their (loyal) customers. Don’t be part of the 20% that’s making all the profit for a business by overpaying. Switch and get a better deal.
Try switch at least every few years. As if you’ve been with the same provider for three or four years you can be almost guaranteed that you’re paying more than you need to.
10. Get to know the price of things
Everyone seems to know the price of a litre of petrol or diesel down to the nearest cent and will immediately know if a forecourt is trying to rip them off.
But this price savviness doesn't usually extend to other important purchases.
Do you know the rate you're paying on your mortgage? The unit rate you're paying for your electricity? The price of a litre of milk, 500g of pasta, or 2.5kg of potatoes in your local supermarket?
It's important to know the price of things so that you know if you're getting good value or are being ripped off.
Supermarkets in particular can be bad for duping shoppers into thinking they're getting a great deal with all sorts of dubious pricing practices and so-called promotions.
So make it an objective to get a bit more price aware about the things you regularly buy or use as it'll help you spot the best deals.
11. Become more focussed with your spending
Rather than say you're going to spend less this year (as that's what we all say!) try become more focussed with your spending instead.
How often have you headed into town for a browse round the shops and ended up buying something you probably didn't really need?
So ask yourself what it is you really need this year. Is it a nice new winter coat to keep you warmer? A new suit for potential work interviews? A new phone? A better pair of runners to help you achieve your fitness goals? An air fryer to save yourself time cooking dinner in the evening?
When heading to the supermarket make a list of what you need and stick to it. Do a stock check of the cupboards and freezer beforehand to see what you already have. If buying clothes, check your wardrobe beforehand to see what clothes you already have. Even if the shopaholic in you means you can't reduce your spending by much, at least try make sure you're spending your money on stuff you actually need.
And, in the words of Marie Kondo, try focus on buying things that 'spark joy'. If it doesn't, put it back on the shelf...