Now that the snow has melted, it feels like Christmas is well and truly over. It seemed to hang on a little longer because of the weather but now the glistening, icing sugar covering is gone, it is back to the dirty, messy reality. (And in my case, very dirty since somehow cattle got into our garden and there are several large, still frozen, cow pats strategically dotted around the lawn).
Ok, so we may have shown some more restraint this year but January sales with the large discounts came a calling and despite your best intentions, you slapped it all on your credit card. Every year we tell ourselves never again - so how about meaning it this year? Start saving for Christmas 2010 now. Set up a special savings account - somewhere that you can't raid too easily and put by a set amount every week. Start with something small but achievable if funds are tight now and save more when you have cleared up the bills for last Christmas. Add up what you spent on Christmas pressies, food and booze this year and set that as your target for this December.
Start a pension
Somehow another year has managed to slip by and you still haven't done anything about a pension. You know there was some rumour about changes made in the Budget to pensions, so maybe you'll skip the pension plan for another year. As it happens, the Minister for Finance decided not to alter the tax treatment of pensions in the Budget. He stated that he accepts “the Commission on Taxation’s recommendation that pension lump sums below €200,000 should not be taxed. The treatment of sums above this level, and the tax treatment of pensions, including the consolidated 33pc of relief will be considered in the Government’s National Pensions Framework shortly to be published by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs”. So he is planning to look at it again fairly soon.
But either way, can you realistically expect to survive on the old age pension provided by the State? That's even if it remains in its current form by the time you retire. Today there are six workers for every retired person but the cost of State pensions in Ireland will more than double by 2050, when there will be just two adults working for every pensioner. Plan for retirement now.
Switch your utilities
This is a no brainer. Go online, make the switch. There are cheaper options out there. Even if you are tied into a 12 month contract with, say a Digital TV provider, then take a look at your TV package. Having a movies channel is great when there is nothing else to watch or the weather is awful during the winter months but as the days start to grow longer, consider ditching it. Generally you only have to keep a premium channel for a month - so by all means - switch it on for Christmas but don't forget to discontinue the service as soon as the 30 days are up. Switch your electricity provider and make sure to sign up for direct debits which may allow for further discounts.
Put your change in a piggy bank
This sounds a bit sad but since opting for a smaller wallet recently I have no purse section to put my change into. I've starting leaving change in various places, the beside table, the kitchen counter top next to the keys, the windowsill. Having gathered it all up earlier I realised there was €12 - so I've decided to put my spare change in a jar. At the end of the month I'm pretty confident there will enough there for a girly treat to get me through the last dull days of January.
Bring lunch to work
Look we know January sucks and you need your comforts but if you are going to get yourself out of that financial hole you dug over Christmas, then start bringing lunch in with you. We can spend an average of €10 a day on sandwiches, coffee and sneaky chocolate bars. Not to mention what you pay for parking and public transport or diesel/petrol. In one job, I realised I was spending €396 a month on lunches, parking fees and diesel. My then boss had previously allowed me to work from home on a regular basis but elements of the job changed and I had to go in every day. Savings had to be made so the ol' sandwich travelled with me to work. I still allowed myself to go out and get a smoothie or sweet treat but at least I was saving myself €120 a month by not handing over my dough for someone else's bread.
Clear overdraft/credit card
If you can't afford to clear it in one go, then get a loan or transfer the balance to a 0pc interest rate card. If the bank is proving a little reluctant, then try your local credit union. They'll help you work out a realistic plan to pay the money back. And whatever you do, don't put any new purchases on your credit card. As for the overdraft, well simply by spending less every month, you can chip away at your overdraft, but if this is proving too slow, think about taking out a loan. It will give you a controlled way of paying off your overdraft and you can start the new year with a clean slate.
Start a compost heap
At least half of the rubbish in my bin comes from fruit and vegetable peelings. That may sound like a lot of peelings but sadly most days, that doesn't always get close enough to the recommended five a day. Health issues aside, if you are paying for refuse charges by weight or simply every time you put out the bin, then consider starting a compost heap. Cooked foods are out but any raw peelings, cuttings from the garden and grass from the lawn can be composted quite successfully. (Though egg shells aren't the best and forget avocado stones. Jury still out on compostable nappies.). Get yourself a handy little bucket or even large lunchbox with a lid for peelings and chuck it in to your composter daily. In a few months you will have compost that you can use in your garden and even if gardening isn't your thing, it'll still save you from having to put out the bin on a regular basis.
Stop buying unnecessary items
I don't need any new clothes. Or shoes and in fact can probably do with cutting down on the number of coats I have. They may all be necessary for trading with in the even of a world meltdown (as seen in The Road - though don't know if a Peter O'Brien range for A-Wear will save me from being eaten even if those stiletto heels currently in the back of the wardrobe could be used as a weapon to defend myself). After bravely making my way with my two children to a panto in Dublin during the recent spell of cold weather, I was astounded by the number of people clutching bags full of new goodies. Ok, the sales are tempting but before you buy ask yourself, do I really need it? Will I ever use it/wear it? Just for the record, yes I did buy something in the sales. A couple of fleeces for the kids, some wool trousers to combat the weather and a new pair of hiking boots since I can't find my old pair - purchased in 2001 and used year after year for cold snaps and ski trips. I've turned the house upsidedown but no boots. So it was justified, and will come in handy in the event of an apocalypse or the occasional snow fall.
Make out a menu and stick to it
The worst and most expensive way (apart from takeaways) to eat is to nip into the supermarket after work and grab the first thing you see. Make out a menu for the fortnight. Go to the shop with your list or buy online in bulk if you have a half decent freezer. It doesn't all have to be spag bol or shepherd's pie. There are plenty of decent veggie options that won't make you feel like you are scrimping and scraping financially and we don't need to eat meat every day (or at all if you have a well thought out veggie diet). Allow for a left-over night or stick cooked food back in the freezer, if there's too much. Alternatively, if there is a microwave at work, bring it in for lunch the next day. This saves on waste and you will soon feel the benefits in your pocket.