Forget micro-managing your wardrobe, Kya deLongchamps argues it’s time to spring clean that household income and expenditure
I HAVE to soundly thank the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland for tailoring my already lean, mean approach to home budgeting still further. In their recent campaign to dial down our home heating, the marketing team at SEAI refer to cooling the house by just one laughable degree as “selfish” – Be a Selfish Hero!
Budgeting or determined frugality puts manners on every cent you throw at your life in your home. It should be intended to redirect the money saved into what really matters to you. Think about what genuinely brings you joy – that holiday, that shift-up in car, taking the kids for a romp in FotaWildlife Park.
The big ticket items? Demand that your bank and/or credit union do everything in their power to save you on everyday charges, your mortgage payments, increasing your interest on savings and more. Explore ways to trim your insurance fees, and to pay off your loans and mortgage early without penalties.
Here’s our recipe to habitually, successfully continue to penny pinch – to put yourself first without a hint of Dickensian misery.
Warm winter warriors
- Turn the thermostat for your living areas down to 20C. Zone-controlled heating is only as good as your habits.
- The temperature in hallways and bedrooms should be cooler, ideally between 15-18°C.
- Turn the heating off 20 minutes before bed. Unless the house is a draughty colander, the air temperature will remain comfortable. Re-set that thermostat.
- You can reduce your heating bill by 10% by lowering your room temperature by just one degree. This can save you up to €150 a year, enough to service a small car.
- Use your conservatory as a “heat-shunt” on sunny days. Open the internal doors and let air flow to adjoining rooms.
- Install thermostatic radiator valves on every radiator if you do not have zoned heating control (around €30 each ex. installation).
- Vulnerable householders may need more ambient heat even if it’s just in one room – be sensible obviously. For improvement grants that may be entirely free for those in need of real, thermal help, check out seai.ie.
Smarten up lighting and appliances
Heating and lighting consumes about 10% of your disposable income. Replace failed lightbulbs with energy-efficient options.
- Select the lowest wattage bulb needed to light the room/area and consider the size of the space and how much natural light the space gets.
- Turn the lights off when not needed.
- Maximise your use of natural light during the day with lighter window treatments and new furniture positions.
- Stop running half loads – even in an AA-rated washer or dryer, the efficiency losses are considerable. Look up your user manual (PDFs are online for every model of branded white goods).
- Older electrical goods can draw 30% of their working energy while on the vampire setting of standby. If you cannot behave, use plug sockets operated by your phone to switch unused appliances off.
Savvy food shopping
Every time you go into a food store you are entering a marketing environment designed with searing precision to make you stray, grab by impulse and spend more than you intended.
- The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment estimate the households bin up to €1000 in food waste a year. Eighty per cent of this is totally or potentially avoidable.
- Have a snack (to ward off any undermining hunger) and then make a list before you go food shopping.
- If you are tying yourself to “points” and rewards, take a close look at whether you are getting any real value here. Some shiny enticements don’t add up.
- Avoid cut-price, short-date items unless you are using them that day. The store is trying to rid themselves of the goods.
- Learn to ignore food aisles crammed with calorie-heavy treats – popular consumer traps. Only bulk-buy non-perishable foodstuffs. Don’t be dazzled by heavily illustrated labelling or the “lost leaders” positioned at the shop entrance. Look up and down from the middle shelves for generic, cheaper goods that are of equal quality.
- Surrender that misplaced loyalty to one shopping giant. Cross the road, buy the deal goods on offer that week, and leave.
- Remove temptation. Shop more specifically online from your recipe list and have your goods delivered.
- Meat and fish are expensive. Rebalance your diet to include more vegetables and fruit, beans and plant proteins.
Make friends with the freezer
It might seem highly 1970s, but batch cooking is not only a subtle money saver but can make actual meal planning a cinch.
- Use vacuum-style containers and bags that will take the dish from freezer to stovetop or even to the table. Air is the enemy of frozen food.
- Stock your pantry intelligently. I don’t know anyone better for advice on this matter than cook and author Darina Allen (check out the foreword of any of her most popular books).
- Clear out the freezer and buy a pen to label your foods with details, dates and portions.
- Chop and freeze fresh vegetables for boiling in portion sizes. Just devote half an hour on Sunday to the big slice.
- Freeze in reasonable portion size – otherwise we’re just adding to the dreadful food waste in Ireland. If you cook and freeze vegetables – slightly undercook.
- Herbs freeze really well – single living pots will die but the frosty parsley and bay leaf is a cook’s best friend.
- Always think about making more – more stew, more sauce, more lasagna, more spag’ bol’– anything that can be frozen, safely defrosted overnight and reheated for the rabid hordes.
- Look for both dishes and inexpensive cuts of meat that freeze well. Talk to your butcher.
- Introduce a leftovers night.
Other winners and dead losses
In the age of paperless billing, it’s easy to lose track of just where the money is haemorrhaging in relatively small amounts. Some crucial spends demand an annual refresh.
- Read your bank statement right through online or in paper form. Look out for obsolete direct debits and subscriptions. At least once a month, sit down and READ through your spending.
- Switch and Save. You can Google my own Irish Examiner article on the wonders of switching electricity, gas and phone suppliers every 12 months or go to bonkers.ie or switcher.ie for further information. Be proactive with these significant bills.
- From 2020, the 80,000 metered households known to be wasting water will be fined. Start behaving better before this new pain hits. 213,000l is the expected litreage for an average household (583l per day).
- Pay by weight waste services? Cut back on packaging, plan meals to cut food waste from today and sort rubbish correctly.
- Money in, money out. Do your homework on weekly expenses and give yourself a protective buffer for the unexpected using our net income.
- Your smartphone has the ability to read both QR codes (those black boxes) – use it in store to review products as you shop everywhere.
- Try the highly detailed free online budgeting tool at the Commission of Competition and Consumer Protection consumers/tools-and-calculators/budget-plannerccpc.ie.