Ireland may officially be out of the bailout but, like the nation itself, many of us are worried about our own budget deficit. Sean spoke to Conor Brophy has assembled 14 tips to help improve your personal finances in 2014.
1 Have a strategy
Make a financial plan and see whether your incomings and outgoings tally with your overall financial goals. Any financial advisor you speak to will begin at this point. Different people at different stages of life have different priorities. People also have very different attitudes to risk. At a much simpler level if you're looking for a resolution for 2014 make it the year in which you take an organized approach to managing your household budget. On that point do you even have a household budget set out in any written on online form?
2 Get the best advice
Don't assume that going it alone is always the best way to save money. Paid-for, independent financial advice may seem expensive but it's a lot cheaper than making an ill-judged savings or investment decision. Above all don't go to a financial services provider and expect them to give you impartial advice. They are product salespeople. A car salesman is never going to tell you that you don't need a new car!
3 Manage your cash flow, don't let it manage you
Look at your cashflow and see if you can improve it to ease the pressure on your household budget. For example - can you move bills around to different parts of the year or spread payments more efficiently?
4 Join a credit union
A no-brainer. Never hurts to have an alternative option for a personal loan for holiday, car or an unexpected expense. Interest rate may be higher but Credit Union invariably more accomodating.
5 Switch and save
Switch everything you can! Your electricity supplier, your current account, your mobile phone. Doing so will save you cash over the course of the year, no doubt about it. We spoke on the programme before about energy bills in particular and how once you've been with your supplier for 12 months you slip back off the preferential rate you get for switching back onto the default rate.
In banking terms current account fees can really rack up across the year. There are accounts out there that minimise the amount you’re shelling out in fees. Many of us avoid switching bank accounts because of perceived hassle of doing so but the figures don’t lie: it makes obvious financial sense.
6 Put your money to work
And make sure you're getting the best available return on your savings and your investments. Fees can substantially reduce your return on investment. It's often better to opt for a passive fund than to pay a fund manager for the privilege of underperforming the market.
7 Make more careful use of your flexible friend
First of all don't rack up any debt on your credit card if you can at all help it. Most of us know or should know by now that it's a really expensive form of borrowing. If, however, you do have a substantial credit card balance (and at this time of year many of us do) have a think about transferring it to another card. You can transfer balances to a new card (and then ideally cut it up and never use it) and get 0% interest for a number of months while you pay the card off. Then you can cancel it.
8 Ensure you're not overpaying for what you insure
Think carefully about your motor insurance. Can you go for a higher excess or drop to third-party cover rather than fully comprehensive? In a similar vein have you evaluated your health cover to make sure, for instance, you're not overpaying and that you are on the cheapest available plan to provide the level of cover you need?
9 Get what's rightfully yours
Fill in your forms and claim your tax refunds and medical expenses. It's your money yet for the sake of a bit of tedious administrative work many of us leave it unclaimed.
10 Remember that convenience costs
Bulk buy non-perishable items and track deals. The more you rely on buying as you go, the more you'll pay for your supermarket shop.
11 Remember too that putting up with minor inconvenience can be cost effective!
You expect to pay more if you want to book a hotel or take a break on a bank holiday weekend. If you can do a midweek break, on the other hand, you can really save. There's a reason flights are cheaper if you're happy to fly at awkward times and midweek. If you have flexibility around when you take your holidays and getaways, you can use it to your financial advantage.
12 Work out how much it's costing you to work out
Do you really need an annual gym membership or should you opt for pay as you go? How often are you using that well appointed exercise facility. Remember that you're still paying for it when you're on holidays or otherwise indisposed unless you choose not to.
13 If you have a smartphone, be smart about how you use it
Use wi-fi, don't send text messages, use VoIP services such as Skype where possible or applications such as whatsapp to send messages and keep those mobile bills down. There are also lots of apps available to help you save money when you're shopping from price comparison to deal-trackers. Make use of them.
14 "Aggregate marginal gains"
Dave Brailsford, the mastermind behind the success of British cyclists at the Olympics and at the Tour de France, credits his success to aggregating marginal gains. In other words seeking very small advantages in everything that you do but recognising that they all add up. Only boiling as much water as you need. Only heating the room that you're in. Switching off lights in empty rooms. Reducing your water usage or capturing rainwater (if you can). None of these in isolation will transform your personal finances but all those small gains add up and they add up big over the long term.