A year of writing the Making Cents column has shown me that although there are a multitude of ways to save money, there are a few cardinal rules that hold true in most financial situations.
1. Shop around
We all know this but many of us still don’t want to put the effort in.
But if you don’t do the legwork and check out different options, you will end up paying over the odds a lot of time. This is as true for insurance as washing machines.
For example, just because the bank requires you to take out a protection policy for your mortgage doesn’t mean you should get it with them.
For independent advice, use a broker who deals with all providers.
When it comes to big household purchases, always research before buying — both to choose the product you want and to ensure you get the best price.
Investing a small amount of time can lead to big savings.
2. Review regularly
When it comes to major ongoing expenses, it isn’t enough to shop around once and then commit for life.
Providers rely on apathy and a misguided sense of loyalty to keep you with them, when there are normally major savings to be made by switching.
Health insurance expert Dermot Goode believes that anyone who has been on the same plan for two years or more is not getting the best deal.
The same rule of thumb can be applied to car insurance, mortgages and more. Yes it’s a hassle, but it is well worth setting a few hours aside to review your major outgoings as they come up for renewal or when the annual statement arrives.
3. Harness the power of the internet
Browse online reviews when choosing a new computer, washing machine, etc, and then use price check sites like Pricespy to find out where the potential purchase is cheapest.
Try Killbiller to identify the right phone plan for your usage and Bonkers.ie to compare everything from current accounts to gas and electricity tariffs.
And no matter what financial goal you have, there’s probably an app to keep you on track.
4. Plan ahead
There are always going to be times of year that lead to increased financial pressure, be it Christmas, holidays or back to school.
The best way to limit debt and stress is to prepare well in advance and ideally spread the cost over several months. Check out this week’s deal for a perfect example.
5. Time your spending
There are savings to be made if you buy at the right time; the mythical shoppers who buy decorations and Christmas presents in the January sales are an extreme example.
Tour operators like to book seats up early so there can be incentives to book your summer holiday in January.
When it comes to smartphones and other tech gadgets, you will always pay dearly for a newly-released model.
Either wait a few months or pick up the previous model — which will have most of the features for a vastly reduced price. St Stephen’s Day and Black Friday are the days to pick up bargains in household goods. Going off-peak can also massively cut costs.
Be it flying midweek rather than weekends or going to the cinema during the day, you will be rewarded for choosing quieter times.
6. Speak up
If you’re not happy with a product or service, it’s always worth telling the provider. Worst case scenario they do nothing but at least you get it off your chest. In most cases, businesses will try to turn things round.
If you’ve ever tried to cancel Sky, you know that all kinds of extras and discounts appear when a customer is about to be lost.
Rather than silently cancelling an insurance policy, let them know you’re not happy and put the onus on them to sweeten the deal. A phone call or email doesn’t take long — and bargaining an extra discount feels great.
... FINALLY, THIS WEEK'S DEAL OF THE WEEK
Your kids may be happily chucking their uniforms in the corner as they embrace the freedom of summer, but the new school year will roll around before we know it.
Consider spreading the back-to-school costs by taking advantage of Marks and Spencer’s current offer. They have 20% off their entire school range, available both online and in-store.
For girls, polo-shirts and blouses are available for between €9.50 and €20 for a pack of two, with skirts starting at €11. Boys’ trousers are available from €12 and jumpers from €11.
There will be uniforms on sale for less in other stores, but the famous M&S durability make them a good investment. The store promises quality fabrics and features including adjustable cuffs, non-iron shirts and water-repellent trousers. They also have a range of different fits.
The offer ends on July 3 and customers who don’t live near a store can avail of free shipping on orders over €30.