It is the one job we all put off. Shopping around for cheaper insurance.

Home, health or motor, it is a dread. But, it is often very worthwhile.

The range of cost comparison websites has made it easier, but sometimes you just have to do the hard yards!

The agency that regulates health insurance is urging people to review their policy before renewal. To make sure it is suited to your needs, and, to make sure you're not paying above the odds.

The Health Insurance Authority (HIA) says one million consumers are due to renew their health insurance in the next three months and it says that people could miss out on significant savings if they don't at least review their policy. That's before you shop around.

The HIA wants us all to set a budget. The average cost of a health insurance plan is €1,200, but you can get a basic plan for less than half that.

Given the penalties for signing on too late in life, people in their thirties should consider some form of cover now.

The penalties are known as Lifetime Community Ratings loadings. If you are over 34 when you take out your first policy you will be hit with the loading. It will cost around 2% for each year above 34, up to a maximum of 70%.

It's not small and if you're young and single now, you may have a family some day and it's worth getting some kind of basic policy to avoid it.

The loadings are about ensuring that health insurance will not be more expensive for older people. So regardless of your age, your gender or the future state of your health, we all pay the same.

Make sure your plan covers your most likely needs

The Health Insurance Authority also wants people to prioritise needs. So make sure the plan you have covers the care you are most likely to need. You can strip out certain benefits or avoid certain plans to make sure you are not paying over the odds.

One really easy way of bringing your premium down is to consider increasing your excess. The higher your increase, the lower the premium will be.

Some of the more expensive plans have quite a low excess, by increasing the excess, you might end up paying out more for certain procedures or appointments, but, you will save lots on the annual premium. It's about striking a balance.

There is no point increasing your excess too much, only to pay out more over the space of a year than you saved on your reduced premium.

But, the single most effective way of saving money is to shop around. It might take an hour or two out of your day, but it will be well worth it in the end.

There are loads of price comparison websites which will help you avoid several phone calls. But, it's well worth contacting your existing insurer to ask if there is a more up to date plan they offer that offers the same level of cover for a lower price.

You'd be surprised how often this saves money. Companies have hundreds of plans and often people are on old, outdated options.

The HIA wants people to contact them and ask for help.

Its CEO Don Gallagher says, "Health insurance policies can be hard to understand and knowing what you should look out for is often difficult to figure out. The HIA has simple, free tools available on our website including a useful jargon buster to help you understand the details of your policy and a comparison tool where you can compare plans to help make an informed decision on whether to renew your policy or switch." 

The authority does have one of the best online tools for comparing policies and what they cover. If you're anxious about cover for certain things, it means you know you have the cover you want.

With Christmas set to cost us all, saving a few quid could make the weeks ahead all the more enjoyable.