ONCE again we've proven ourselves slow to switch in order to save money. Don't we care? I think it's down to the fact that so many contracts are simply so complicated that customers don't read them, only to renew in a panic at the last minute.
SINEAD RYAN - CONSUMER CHAMPION
New research by Amarach shows that fewer than one in five changed their health insurer last year, despite it being one of the biggest household bills. Here are my top 10 savvy switches:
1 - GAS: With Bord Gais deregulated and new player Energia, competition is looking up. Check out www.bonkers.ie with your bill to see if you're over-paying. Switching is hassle free. A three-bed house using Bord Gais standard service pays €993.27 p.a. Moving to FloGas saves €141.08. Go direct debit for more savings.
2 ELECTRICITY: Many of us bundle utilities together but it's not always a saving. An average bill of €1,129.70 with Electric Ireland can be reduced to €1,075.34 with Energia's Smart Choice plan. Ask for paperless billing.
3 BANKS: It's so difficult to get free banking these days that most of us don't bother. Who has €3,000 to keep in their account balance, Bank of Ireland? Or €2,500, AIB? Find a provider who'll settle for less. PTSB requires you only to lodge €1,500 a month; KBC charges just €2 per month fees and Ulster Bank €4.
4 CAR INSURANCE: No insurance is as price variable as motor. I found this out after my premium almost doubled this year so I went online to Chill.ie, Getcover.ie and NoNonsense.ie and switched. If you have a second fully-licensed driver you'll chop costs. Always check the excess, as well- the portion of any claim you pay first. It can really affect the premium you'll pay.
5 HOUSE INSURANCE: If there's one place you're probably over-insured it's here. Most of us simply accept what insurers tell us it would cost to rebuild in the event of, say, a fire. In actual fact, costs have dropped considerably. Check out www.scsi.ie for a handy guide. Then, work out, room to room, what it would cost to replace things. Using a percentage of the building figure is lazy. List any items over €1,000 separately under "All Risks" and shop around to price better.
6 BROADBAND: Here is one area where bundling services works. You can get home phone, broadband and TV for a lot less by combining them but beware of contract lengths and options. Sky offers unlimited broadband, its 'Variety' TV bundle and evening/weekend calls for €66 per month for six months, rising to €76 on a 12-month contract. UPC's price is €32 per month but jumps to €80 per month after six months and is for 18 months.
7 MOBILE PHONE: There are hundreds of options here and saving money will ultimately come down to how badly you want the very latest smartphone. If you're not bothered, you can pick up the last model for €50 and sign up to an annual contract for around €40 a month for everything you'll need. Avoid individual providers and go to Carphone Warehouse for unbiased advice.
8 HEALTH INSURANCE: You're already running away, screaming, right? But seriously, it's a huge expense and you can save loads by taking an hour out to com-pare using www.hia.ie. Glo Health and Laya have started offering pick 'n' mix options so you're not paying for things you don't want. By far the biggest saving is choosing accommodation carefully. If you're happy with a semi-private room in a public hospital, this will drop your premium substantially. Laya's Essential Secure is the cheapest for this basic policy at €514.55 per adult; VHIs One Plan Starter is €547. A private room in a private hospital brings both premiums to well over €1,000.
9 SAVINGS ACCOUNTS: Banks want I your money but you'd never know it from the interest rates on offer which are abysmal. Regular savers are more attractive than lump sums especially outside the 'pillar' banks. KBC offers 3.5pc while Nationwide x UK (Ireland) gives 4pc. Everyone else hovers around I- 3pc.
10 CREDIT CARDS: They are ferociously ex- pensive. KBC, Tesco and PTSB offer 0pc on balance transfers for 6 months which will help you get debts down.