Is cutting up your credit card a sensible move?

Despite a worsening financial crisis, we are a nation that still loves to buy now and pay later. So is cutting up your credit card the correct response to these difficult times, asks John Cradden

THE suggestion that you should cut up your credit card is usually reserved for those of us who have accumulated large credit card debts and are having trouble paying them off.

But what if you don’t have any credit card debt or at least a small, manageable balance? Is it possible that we still depend too much on them?

The recession has seen a drop of about 100,000 in the number of active credit cards since January 2009, according to Central Bank figures.

But we are still a nation of credit card lovers, with 2.12 million cards in circulation.

Furthermore, while card holders paid off a massive €846m on their cards in August, they barely made a dent in their debt as they spent the equivalent figure on their cards that same month.

The average credit card debt is €1,400.

“I would have no issue in cutting up my AIB credit card in the morning,” says financial advisor Bob Quinn of

“I use my laser card for paying for petrol, groceries and many other day-to-day items. This allows me to keep track of my spending habits when I look back at my statements.”


Mr Quinn also has a pre-paid Mastercard from Payzone, which he uses to book frequent Ryanair flights and is the only card that allows users to avoid Ryanair credit card charges.

“As with everything, however, there are fees and charges with this card, but if it keeps my credit card balance at zero and temptation to spend at bay, then they are charges I am prepared to pay.”

Simon Moynihan, of price comparison website, says he wouldn’t be prepared to cut up his card.

“As long as the banks allow me to have one, I’ll keep a credit card with the highest limit I can get,” he says.

“I look on my credit card as a vital lifeline. It’s there for unexpected expenses like overseas medical bills, car repairs and home repairs.

“What’s great about credit cards is you can borrow on the spot, no forms to fill in, no questions asked,” says Mr Moynihan.

“But this is also what makes them so dangerous,” he adds.

Patricia Foskin of consumer financial information website, who has used a credit card for over 30 years, says she has no plans to cut up her card either.

The main benefits for her include the 56 days of credit and being able to use it in emergencies, such as for “medical costs or indeed the volcanic ash crisis during the spring”, she says.

However, while a credit card can be an asset to your lifestyle, if it’s not if handled carefully, it can become a liability, she says.

One alternative to cutting up your card is to lower your credit limit.

“If someone cannot manage their credit card and are inclined to lose control of their spending but like the convenience, they should ask their provider to reduce their credit limit to say €500 and ring up for a once-off increase if purchasing a more expensive item,” says Ms Foskin.

Having a credit card is said to be useful for building your credit rating, as long as it is managed responsibly.

However, lowering your credit limit on your card might feasibly hurt your credit rating too.

The Irish Credit Bureau (ICB), which manages credit ratings for most banks here, bases part of its credit rating system on the model that they use in the US, called the Global FICO Score.

According to an information booklet on FICO, 30pc of your overall credit score is based on the amount you owe and the amount of available credit you have.

Although it does not specifically state that reducing your available credit will reduce your score, one consumer expert we spoke to says it stands to reason that if you have a balance on your card and reduce your card limit — and therefore your available credit — you may damage your score.

We attempted several times to contact the ICB to ask them about this, but were unable to get a response.

However, both the Irish Banking Federation and the Irish Payment Services Organisation say that lowering your credit limit would not affect your credit score.

Mr Quinn doesn’t believe that reducing your credit card limit would affect your credit rating, but if you asked that your limit be set lower than your existing balance you could end up incurring over-limit fees and penalties, he said.

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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Car sharing clubs

Go Car's new base in Dublin, off Camden St.

By John Cradden

Thursday September 09 2010

The costs and hassles of owning a car or two certainly add up. As well as the expense of buying them in the first place, you have to regularly stump up for fuel, insurance, motor tax, servicing and repairs, NCTs, cleaning, and parking fees.

Cork city resident Laura Pomeroy doesn’t own a car but uses one at least once a week, typically during the evenings or weekends. It’s usually to be found parked in a spot on Wandesford Quay, just five minutes away from her apartment.

“I don’t need a car in my everyday life as I live within walking distance of work, and the parking facilities are limited in the area,” says Laura.

Laura is a member of a car-sharing club called GoCar. Established in Cork city in 2008, registered users can hire a car or van at relatively short notice (at least an hour or so) and use it for as little as one hour or longer for around €5 an hour.

It sounds much like a traditional car hire service, but there are a couple of key differences.

The first is that hiring a GoCar is done on a ‘pay as you go’ basis, so you only pay for the amount of time you need it and the distance you travel.

Traditional car-hire firms charge by the day, so even if you hire a car and drop it back within two hours, you are still charged the full daily rate, and you have to pay for your own fuel too.

The second difference is to do with speed and convenience.

Once you’ve booked online, all you have to do is walk to the designated parking spot in the city centre (where the car is based when it’s not in use), hold your membership card up to a card reader on the windscreen to unlock the car, get in, and away you go.

In many ways, GoCar is like a four-wheeled version of the Dublin Bikes scheme. More than one million journeys have been taken on Dublin Bikes since they launched last year.

Now, following a three-year pilot operation in Cork city, GoCar has just established its first base in Dublin. Two cars will be located on Pleasants Street, off Camden Street, and it hopes to expand with further bases with more cars — and possibly vans — later in the year.

While there are similarities with Dublin Bikes in that the cars are parked in convenient locations on public streets and available at short notice, GoCar is being billed as an alternative to owning a car, or even a second car, for those who live in city centres.

“One of the major advantages is that you don’t have to maintain the car or find parking in the city,” says Laura. “There is always a parking space available.

“It is also eco-friendly as I am not leaving an empty car parked in the city without being used.”

The GoCar fleet in Cork includes a van as well as cars.

“Car owners only have what they have, and try to anticipate that they can use their car for everything,” says GoCar managing director Graham Lightfoot.

GoCar Cork was set up as a three-year pilot project by Mendes, a Tipperary-based transport consultancy, with the help of Cork City Council and Ford, which provided the eight-strong fleet.

The support of the Council was clearly crucial in terms of permanently allocating the street parking spaces, but equally there is strong support at government level to assist with services like GoCar. It ticks a number of boxes, including reducing car usage and helping the environment.

However, over the course of two years, the take-up in Cork appears to have been a little underwhelming.

So far, the company has a total of nearly 140 authorised users.

About a third of these are employees of Cork City Council, which agreed to block-book three cars for its staff over the three-year period of the pilot.

There are more than 40 private users, with the rest made up of business users from small firms.

“Progress has been quite slow with new customers joining at an average of five per month and use levels also being very low,” says GoCar managing director Graham Lightfoot. “However, we have proved that the technology works and our customers seem to be very happy with the service.”

He openly acknowledges the strong culture of car ownership that makes the idea of getting rid of even a second pair of wheels a bridge too far for most people.

“As well as that, the low density development of towns and cities in Ireland militates against our type of service, which needs high-density developments to support it.”

GoCar Dublin is expected to be more successful given its far greater size and higher density compared to Cork.

Joss Fitzsimons regularly uses the GoCar Cork van from either Wandesford Quay or the City Hall mainly for transporting items being used by Jospa, the ocean-wave research company she works for.

She also owns a small sports car “presently in need of an NCT” but has actively considered getting rid of it, “or perhaps I might just tax and insure it for the summer months”.

Joss says most of the teething troubles affecting the service seem to have been ironed out, but some problems remain. “There is a regular problem of people parking illegally on the spot, which means it’s difficult to get back in,” she says, but rates this only as a minor issue.

So far, neither Joss nor Laura has had any problems with availability, but this is something GoCar say they are always conscious of.

“As the level of refusals increases we will look to provide more vehicles, but at the moment it’s not an issue,” says Lightfoot.

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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Outwit the ATM thieves

Thursday September 09 2010

JUST when you thought you could let your guard down a little, some sneaky thieves are still looking over your shoulder.

Following the rollout of the ‘chip and pin’ card system from 2007 and the installation of anti-skimming technology in most ATMs around the country, the problem of ATM and card fraud appeared to have been virtually wiped out here.

But according to the Irish Payment Services Organisation (IPSO), the number of incidences of card skimming — where thieves fit devices into the ATM card slot in order to copy your card details — rose sharply from last April.

“We had seen a complete cessation of this type of crime from quarter three last year until the second quarter of this year,” says Una Dillon of IPSO.

Out of 36 ATM skimming attempts made since April, 24 were successful, while the other 12 didn’t work because they had anti-skimming devices installed.

It seems that thieves are still targeting the remaining few ATMs in the country that have not yet been fitted with these devices. These are due to be upgraded over the coming weeks, says Ms Dillon.

Of those attempts that were successful, it is understood that the card issuers blocked or monitored the cards used at the ATMs so cardholders were not affected.


During card skimming at-tempts, thieves transfer the skimmed data (contained on the black stripe on the back of your card) to a blank counterfeit card. In most cases, it is understood that the thieves don’t even have to recover the skimming device from the ATM, as they can download the information remotely.

In addition, thieves use a micro-camera, usually hidden in metal to match the ATM being targeted, and glue it to the top of the ATM to capture the pin number as you key it in.

So if you’ve ever wondered exactly why every bank advises ATM users to cover their hand while keying in their PIN number, this is the reason.

“Regardless of the equipment that the criminals have used, the crime is based on capturing an image of the PIN while it is being input,” says Ms Dillon.

“If they don’t have that, then the electronic card details are of no use. It sounds simple, but it really does work.” Even if thieves obtain the information from the black stripe and get the PIN number, it won’t have the chip that would enable it to be used in a chip and pin machine, whether an ATM or a point of sale (POS) terminal. But there are still a few countries, including the US, that have not implemented chip and pin systems, so this is the loophole that the recent thieves exploit — by using the copied cards in these countries.

As well as ATMs, you should also be vigilant about using your card at point of sale (POS) terminals in shops and stores.

Earlier this year, there were reports of criminals ‘shoulder surfing’ in supermarkets, then distracting people in car parks while an accomplice stole the card, purse or wallet.

One woman reportedly lost €25,000 over a number of days as a result of this type of attack.

“A number of gangs were arrested for carrying out this crime in the recent past, and it hasn’t been obviously prevalent since then,” says Ms Dillon.

Although Irish banks have refunded customers if a genuine ATM or card fraud has taken place, other countries, including the UK, are reportedly more reluctant to do so when they can find any evidence that a customer has been negligent.

According to Ms Dillon, banks here will not turn a blind eye to obvious carelessness, such as writing a PIN on the actual card only for it to fall into the hands of someone who then uses it.

“The PIN is the key to a bank account using a payment card,” she says. “Customers are required under their bank’s terms and conditions to keep their PIN to themselves and not share it or write it down.

“In cases where a customer clearly allows a criminal to shoulder surf and then access their card, this could be deemed as negligent, depending on the circumstances,” says Ms Dillon.

While any extra security measures being put in place by the banks to prevent fraud are welcome, some of these measures can trip up the banks.

For instance, Bank of Ireland recently had to issue €3m in refunds to 43,000 customers who made ATM withdrawals between 2005 and 2009 but never took their money.

If a customer taps in a request for money from an ATM but does not take the money out of the machine, the money is normally taken back into the machine after 30 seconds. ATM cash not withdrawn is normally refunded automatically to the customer’s bank account.

The Bank of Ireland’s issue arose following the installation of anti-fraud measures, which had the effect of disabling this automatic refund response.

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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How are your bank deposits protected?

As the Government extends its bank guarantee scheme until the end of the year, confusion persists over which deposits are protected and in which institutions, writes John Cradden

Thursday September 02 2010

YOU may not have noticed, but the Government’s much-criticised bank guarantee scheme was extended recently.

The scheme, which was launched in September 2008 just as the banking crisis began, protects all deposits with certain financial institutions and was due to expire at the end of September this year.

The guarantee is based on two pieces of legislation and its official name is the Eligible Liabilities Guarantee Scheme (ELGS). Now, the European Commission has given permission to the Government to extend it until the end of this December.

What confuses many people is that this scheme is different from the Government’s Deposit Protection Scheme (also referred to as the Deposit Guarantee Scheme), which has been in place for some time and has no end date.

So what’s the DPS about then?

The Deposit Protection Scheme, which has been in place since 1995 (as was required by EU rules), guarantees individual deposits of up to €100,000 at any bank, building society or credit union regulated by the Financial Regulator.

Since 1999, you could only claim a maximum of €20,000 under this scheme, but in September 2008 this limit was increased by the Government to €100,000 and credit unions were included for the first time.

The scheme applies per person, per institution. This means that the most you can claim is €100,000 for each institution in the scheme, but if you have deposits with more than one of them, you can claim up to €100,000 per institution.

The scheme applies to current accounts; demand deposit accounts; term deposit accounts; share accounts and deposit accounts with building societies; and share accounts and deposit accounts with credit unions.

Its reach extends to 16 Irish and non-Irish deposit-taking institutions in Ireland, although this will reduce to 14 now that Halifax has exited the Irish market and An Post’s Postbank is due to wind up.

How does the DPS differ from the ELGS?

The DPS covers you for any deposit per institution up to €100,000, but if you have more than €100,000 deposited in the same institution, then any amount above €100,000 will be covered by the ELGS, at least until December.

However, this scheme only covers seven institutions: AIB, Anglo Irish Bank, Bank of Ireland, EBS, ICS, Irish Life and Permanent and Irish Nationwide.

So together, the DPS and the ELGS essentially represent a sort of twin-tracked approach to guaranteeing that your money is safe.

Does it matter with the ELGS what type of account I have?

No, the ELGS still applies to all types of accounts, including current accounts. It also applies to fixed-term deposits in qualifying institutions, which are protected in full for up to five years.

However, the rules for fixed-term deposits are slightly different because there is a time limit for qualifying. The first €100,000 in any one institution is covered by the DPS in any case, but whether any balance above €100,000 is covered depends on whether your institution was a member of the ELGS when you deposited your money.

In other words, you must have placed your deposit with one of these seven institutions after they joined the scheme, which started last December.

Not all of the seven institutions joined the ELGS at the same time. You should check with your institution if you are not sure.

What does the extension of the ELGS mean for me?

Nothing if you have less than €100,000 deposited in any one institution, as you are covered by the DPS anyway.

If you do have more than €100,000 in any one institution, and as long as that institution is one of the seven covered by the ELGS, the balance above €100,000 is covered at least until December 31.

Whether it will continue to be covered after that will depend on the next ELGS review by the European Commission, which happens every six months.

Even if the commission rules out a further extension, is the DPS still in place?

Yes, it is more or less a permanent scheme, as required by EU rules. As well as the requirement to have a deposit guarantee scheme, all EU states will have to provide the same level of deposit protection of up to €100,000 by the end of this year.

What if I am banking with an institution that is not covered by either the DPS or ELGS?

If you have an account with a bank that has a branch in Ireland but is regulated in another country, you would usually have to make a claim under the compensation schemes that are in place in that country.

Investec Bank, Leeds Building Society, Nationwide Building Society and Northern Rock are covered by the British scheme. This would pay compensation up to the limit of £50,000 (€61,000) per person, per institution.

Rabodirect is covered by the Dutch scheme (€100,000), while National Irish Bank is covered by the Danish scheme, which is limited to €50,000 but will rise to €100,000 by October 1.

If you have a term deposit of more than €100,000 and your bank is not a member of the ELG scheme, check with your financial institution as you may be covered under a scheme in another country.

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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A nation of happy campers

With the communal tent-fest that is the Electric Picnic just a week away, John Cradden offers a fool-proof guide to slumming it in The Great Outdoors

It’s already that time of the year when tens of thousands of revellers are preparing to descend on the Laois countryside for Electric Picnic next weekend. But before all the music and mayhem can begin, festival-goers have to first successfully pitch their tents in the designated campsites.

This will be no problem to seasoned campers used to braving the elements and getting close to nature, dude, but for novices who rarely venture out of the Great Indoors, it can be a sobering experience.

Especially when The Waterboys are on the main stage and you’re still trying to figure out which peg goes in which hole — and why the blasted cover sheet keeps blowing in the wind.

Aside from the summer rock festivals, camping is not exactly embedded in Irish holidaying culture, mainly thanks to our less than predictable weather.

Indeed, you’re more likely to find foreign visitors camping in some of our most spectacular spots than we are.

But new research commissioned by car parts and leisure retailer Halfords suggests that a surprisingly large number of us are considering going camping. The retailer surveyed 1,000 people in Ireland about attitudes to camping and found that no less than 81% of them were thinking (in general) about it.

So how come we’ve apparently transformed into a nation of happy campers?

“This may be due to a range of factors including the difficult economic climate or simply a return to good old-fashioned values,” says Bob Parker, Halford’s Ireland country manager.

Camping may now represent the ultimate credit-crunch holiday experience, but if Halford’s figure seems very high, then it probably is.

For a start, the survey was commissioned by a retailer that happens to have some quite good special offers on tents and camping equipment at the moment.

But it’s also worth noting that the survey was conducted when we happened to enjoy a rather marvellous period of sunny weather and temperatures that rose to over 27 degrees Celsius.

What the survey does suggest is that the idea of camping can be far more appealing than the act itself, particularly when it’s sunny.

Indeed, it won’t be clear until the very end of the summer if campsites owners are enjoying a bonanza in bookings, according to the Irish Camping and Caravanning Council (ICC), but so far sites have been enjoying a busy period.

“Campers by their nature are late bookers if they book at all,” said ICC secretary Aideen Flynn. “Usually they wait to see what the weather forecast is like before they plan their trip.”

Ask your friends and family how they feel about camping and opinions will likely divide into the ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ camps (no pun intended).

Those who love it will wax lyrical about being closer to nature and the countryside, the satisfying feeling of achievement after successfully putting up a tent, and simply just being (and eating) outside.

“Eating good food in the outdoors will put a smile on anyone’s face and make any camping holiday memorable,” says Dealga MacAree, a veteran camper from Dublin.

But then there are the alternative realities that leave many campers less than happy: the smelly sleeping bags, the bugs, no hot water, sometimes filthy campsite toilets and showers, and cheap tents that leak like a sieve in the rain.

“As I get older I would be more cautious about going camping from a security point of view,” adds Laura Mulligan from Dublin. “It’s that fear of not being able to sleep behind a locked door. Even hiring a camper van wouldn’t make me feel safe. Then the weather would be a huge factor.”

Camping can end up bing a hellish experience if you are unprepared, so here’s our top five piece of advice campers should note before packing up the tent.

1. The Tent

It’s definitely worth paying attention to your choice of tent. After all, it will be expected to withstand heavy rain, strong winds and threats to their structural integrity from wayward farm animals.

“When I was camping in Poland in 2007 a chicken jumped on my tent and somehow broke an aluminium pole,” says Barry Kennedy from Limerick. A temporary fix was managed with good old duct tape. “Unfortunately, the guilty chicken was able to escape into the next field uncooked.”

Prices start from next to nothing: Dublin camping specialists Capel Camping offers a two-person dome tent for as little as €19.99.

Mind you, it’s clearly aimed at cash-strapped music festival kids for whom quality is far less important than cheap beer. What’s more, it’s clear many regard them as disposable items, as evidenced by the many dome tents left abandoned at Oxegen or the Electric Picnic when the music’s over.

If you pitch your budget even a little higher, you could snap up a special-offer four-person tent from Aldi for €89.99, while Halfords has a four-person tent ‘pack’, including some camping equipment, that used to retail at over €300 but which is now on sale from its website for just €119.

Up to €400-500 will get you a very good quality item that can accommodate up to six people.

But if you’re really broke, someone, somewhere in your circle of friends and family probably has a tent you can borrow.

2. Read the instructions

Nearly 80% of those surveyed by Halfords said they were confident they could pitch a tent.

Confidence was clearly enough for the young couple at the Oxegen festival last year who managed to pitch their tent inside-out, and which had Galway man Fergal O’Hagan and his mates in stitches.

“They didn’t twig at all what they had done wrong,” he said.

3. Stay in a campsite or go wild?

Prices for campsites start from as little as €10 a night and you’d struggle to find one that charges more than €30.

If you haven’t visited one for a while, you’ll be amazed at some of the mod cons now available, such as handy power points and even Wi-Fi.

But you should consider camping in the wild, too, says Nick Russell from Cork, who has camped all over the world.

A huge amount of camping activity in other countries is restricted to campsites, he says.

“The great thing about camping in Ireland is that that you can choose to avail of campsite facilities or find your own idyllic spot to spend the night.

“This freedom makes the whole experience much more enjoyable.”

If you do camp in an area that isn’t specifically dedicated to camping, such as a forest, make sure that you leave no trace of your stay, says MacAree.

“We are blessed in Ireland to have countryside that is perfect for camping so it’s important to keep it like that.”

4. Equipment to make life easier

More than half of the Halfords survey respondents said they didn’t know what to pack for a camping holiday.

As well as the old reliables such as Swiss army knives or portable stoves, there are several items that many seasoned campers now can’t do without.

“Without question my headtorch is my desert island pick,” says MacAree. “I bought a good one about 10 years ago and still have it.”

He regards it as essential for reading in the tent, cooking meals at night and for midnight walks in the woods.

Air mattresses have come to be regarded as an essential rather than a luxury item, and there are now self-inflating ones that roll up tightly enough to fit in a rucksack.

Russell suggests clear, plastic bags with zip-locks to store anything that needs to stay dry. “There is nothing more miserable than wet clothes, shoes or sleeping bags,” he says.

5. Bring a sense of humour

No matter how prepared you think may be as a novice camper, Murphy’s Law can still take effect, if only because you’re out of your element.

A sense of humour about the pitfalls that can bedevil you definitely helps.

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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Is importing a used car from the UK still worth it?

Experts believe that it is still cheaper to import a second-hand car from the UK or the North, even taking VRT into account, but be careful you don’t pay over the odds, writes John Cradden

IF you are one of the many thousands of motorists who sourced a used car from the UK in search of better value over the last few years, the chances are you got a bargain.

Thanks to the long weakness of sterling against the euro, the price-inflating effect of Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) on used car values in Ireland, and the lower prices (and wider availability) of used cars in the UK, the rate of used-car imports from across the Irish Sea soared from slightly fewer than 14,000 a year in 2003, to a peak of more than 60,000 in 2008.

Widespread anecdotal and media-survey evidence suggested that buyers could reasonably expect to save around 20pc or more on the price of an equivalent car in Ireland.

This is even taking into account the VRT that must be paid when re-registering the car, among other expenses.

However, in the past two years a couple of things have changed for the Irish used-car market that have made UK used-car imports less attractive.

The first is that sterling has strengthened against the euro, while the second is that used-car prices in Ireland have fallen (some say in response to the number of cheaper imports).


A third factor, according to motor-trade sources, is that used-car prices in the UK have hardened a little.

“Part of the problem is that the UK is fast running out of stock, which means sourcing from over there is not as easy as it used to be and if sterling strengthens, it will be even more difficult,” says Shane Teskey of car history-checking website

But he adds that because of the collapse in new-car sales, Ireland is also beginning to experience a shortage in the supply of good second-hand cars, which he says will become a significant problem over the next two or three years.

“The drop in (new car) sales from 2009 means that used car supply is starting to dry up.”

Indeed, figures from the Central Statistics Office, as well as, show that while the number of used-car imports in 2010 is down nearly 40pc on the 2008 peak, they are almost on a par (so far) with figures in 2009, when slightly less than 50,000 were imported.

So, even if the total costs of importing UK cars generally appear to be much the same as the prices of used cars on sale in Ireland, problems with second-hand supply suggest that UK imports will remain a popular option for many motorists here over the next few years.

Indeed, importing cars from the UK is such a part of Irish used car-buying culture that many dealers here have been importing used models from the UK to meet demand.

Many car enthusiasts familiar with the experience of importing a UK used car have been keenly watching changes in the Irish market.

Klaus Gottsche from Galway imported some cars over the past few years, but his last import, a Renault Clio 172 (a hot hatchback), was in 2008.

He says he certainly wouldn’t save much on bringing in a car from the UK today.

“You would be hard pressed to find anything like that now, with only enthusiasts like me on the lookout for a clean, well-serviced, well-minded example, or people looking for specific specs like leather and other little goodies in middle or upmarket models,” he says.

Mr Gottsche believes many people have become wary of Ireland being used as a “dumping ground” for dodgy, crashed or clocked cars from the UK. He adds that many Irish used cars are now actually a good deal cheaper than in the UK.

“Any petrol-engined car over 1.6 or 1.8 litre, for example, is unwanted because of our punitive pre-2008 engine size-based tax regime and the big swing towards diesel,” he says.

But someone who has done the numbers on a UK car import in recent weeks — albeit hypothetically — is Bob Flavin, who runs motoring blog Recently, he carefully compared the prices for a 2007 BMW 520d SE automatic, both here and in the UK.

Both cars were in similar condition and mileage. Even taking into account all the costs of importing the UK car, it still worked out nearly €5,000 cheaper than the Irish one. But, he notes that his comparison was made purely on paper.

“The prices of the cars I’m using are the full quoted price,” he wrote.

“If you walk into any dealer in Ireland with €22,000 in your pocket, and no trade-in, the price becomes negotiable.”

Mr Flavin believes many more dealers here will go out of business because those who would normally trade up around three to four years into their ownership are hanging on to their cars, making decent used cars rare.

“I don’t blame the dealers here, because of our frankly crazy VRT, UK cars start off far cheaper than the Irish models.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent.

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Supermarket psychology

Supermarkets use clever psychology strategies to entice customers to spend more time on the floor, buy extra goods, and move quickly to checkouts at closing rime, writes John Cradden.

Thursday August 26 2010

HAVE you ever found yourself muttering under your breath that you have to traipse almost all the way through your local supermarket just to get a loaf of bread or a carton of milk?

Why can’t they have essential items near the front of the store?

Well, if you’ve ever read anything about supermarket psychology, you will know that this is one of a number of common tricks used by big supermarkets to get you to walk past items you didn’t plan on buying — and therefore spend more money that you intended.

It certainly appears to work. A survey of members of UK consumer association ‘Which?’ from last year found that two-thirds said they spent more than they intended at the supermarket.

More than seven in 10 said they go for special offers if they see them.

But the same survey also revealed some psychological tactics that British shoppers actively dislike.

Almost three quarters said they get annoyed when groceries are moved to different aisles.

This is a classic tactic designed to tempt you with other items while you try and track down the items you really wanted.

And almost six in 10 respondents said its manipulative when supermarkets place products that appeal to children on the lower shelves to catch their eye.

“There are a lot of examples of this,” says John Ruddy, editor of grocery trade magazine ‘Checkout’.

“Some supermarkets have been known to pump the smell of fresh bread around stores to entice customers to buy it.”

Music is another very interesting area, says Mr Ruddy.

“Playing fast, high tempo music when you want people to hurry up, such as when the store is closing, or slow, relaxing music during the day, to make people slow down and take their time — and buy more items.”

Of course, such tactics are part and parcel of the careful planning that goes into placing items on supermarket shelves and how much space they occupy.

Manufacturers are aware of this too, and will often be prepared to pay extra for placing their items at the most desirable locations, such as shelves at eye-level, and perhaps with eye-catching shelf labels specially made.

Needless to say, the supermarket trade wouldn’t describe such tactics as underhand.

“The point I would make is that retail is a game,” says Mr Ruddy. “It’s about trying to sell as much as possible to a consumer that may not want to buy the product.”


So understanding some of the rules of the supermarket psychology game may well prove one of the most effective ways of helping you save money on your weekly shopping bill.

For instance, focus on the value of any tempting promotions rather than accept at face value that you are getting better value.

“Shoppers often buy on promotion because they like promotions, but they don’t always take into account what the promotion actually means,” says Mr Ruddy.

“They might buy two for €5.50 when the cost of two units at the regular price might be just €5.60.

“Yet people will see ‘deal’ and buy it because they like to think they are beating the supermarket.”

Some supermarkets apparently do things like make some packaging more austere so that people will think it’s cheap just because it looks cheap, even if it is not actually that cheap, or create ‘value’ sections which are full of ‘discount’ that are less than generous.

While store layout is a crucial part of supermarket psychology in terms of getting people to shop at a store in a way that makes them spend more, many managers will know that they have to get the balance right, says Mr Ruddy.

“There’s no point in making it too easy for a shopper to only buy what they want, but at the same time, you can’t make it too difficult for them to buy it, because then you will irritate them and lose the sale.”

So what other tactics are worth learning about? According to research by ‘Which?’, fruit and vegetables are often located at the front of your local supermarket in order to represent the healthy, fresh image that the supermarkets want to portray.

This is also the same rationale for almost always putting alcohol at the back of the store so as not to undermine this healthy image too much.

You will often find sweets at checkouts, which are very tempting not just for children but also tired shoppers.

Of course, shoppers can try to beat the retailer by considering promotions carefully, shopping in more than one supermarket, sticking to shopping lists and not being tempted by new products or deals.

This piece first appeared in the Irish Independent

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Journey to the centre of the earth

Before their descent into the ‘underground Everest’, the deepest spot on the planet accessible to humans, JOHN CRADDEN talks to four Irish cavers for whom the only way is down

WHILE THE rest of us are soaking up the sun (or sheltering from the rain), four Irishmen will be spending most of their summer holidays in a cave 2km underground.

If that strikes you as a long way down, then your instincts would be spot on. It’s actually the deepest known cave that can be reached by humans, and it takes at least three days to get there.

Their three-week international expedition, starting today, to the bottom of the cave, in little- known country 2,500 miles away that no one has ever heard of, may well rank as the ultimate caving trip.

At a depth of 2,191m, the Krubera-Voronja cave in Abkhazia, a disputed breakaway Georgian republic on the Black Sea, has been dubbed the “underground Everest”.

“It is, for many, the reverse pinnacle of mountaineering,” says Stephen MacNamara, a senior member of this year’s 20-strong international expedition, and the only member of the Irish team who has been down there before – twice. “It is a very challenging expedition and it needs a strong team to pull it off.”

Joining him on this year’s trip will be Tim O’Connell from Co Clare, and Eoghan Mullan and Niall Tobin from Dublin. Together with MacNamara, a Dundalk native, they have more than 35 years of caving experience between them. They’ll be joining a group of similarly experienced cavers from Spain, France, Serbia and Lithuania.

So a trip like this is not for the faint-hearted, or indeed the claustrophobic, but what’s its like being 2km underground? In many ways, it will be much like any other deep cave, according to MacNamara, in that it’ll be very cold, wet, muddy and of course, pitch dark. There is no problem with air quality as the cave, like most caves, “breathes” as air flows through it, he says.

It will be eerily quiet. “There is water farther up in the cave which can be very loud and active, but here the atmosphere changes.” But it’s mainly the knowledge of how far down they are that gives the experience of the Krubera-Voronja its real psychological edge.

“You certainly feel remote, knowing how much time it takes to exit from that point,” says MacNamara.

This terrifying fact is already dominating the thoughts of the first-timers in the Irish team. “I feel a little jittery about the trip, particularly the level of remoteness once we get near the bottom,” says O’Connell. “It’s a long way from help if anything goes against us. That said, I can’t wait to get going.”

“There’s a reasonable amount of pressure to not let your team down or get injured, and there aren’t many more remote places on earth,” says Tobin. “To quote a man, ‘The helicopter’s not coming.‘”

The good news is that, to the best of MacNamara’s knowledge, the world’s deepest cave has not yet claimed any lives since it was properly discovered in the 1960s, although there has been an injury that required a rescue. “Fortunately, we’re all members of the Irish Cave Rescue Organisation,” he says.

There is also a strong scientific dimension to the trip, with the teams carrying out a range of measurements, experiments, samples, readings, and other information.

Besides gathering scientific data, the spelaeology (scientific study of caves) is crucial to the success of the expedition, not least to measure how rainfall on the surface affects water levels below. Besides falling, the single biggest cause of caving fatalities is drowning. This study allows the team to apply for funding support for an expensive trip that they couldn’t otherwise afford. As well as generous support from the Spelaeological Union of Ireland, which represents cavers, other local sponsors include Cascade Designs, Great Outdoors, Cotswold Belfast, Ailwee Cave and Marble Arch Caves.

At -2,080 metres, the deepest part of the Krubera-Voronja that isn’t filled with water has been aptly named Game Over. Did they celebrate when he reached it for the first time in 2008? “We had a 7-Up bottle of some celebratory alcoholic drink at the -1,800m camp that night,” says MacNamara. “There was a swig each. We can’t really afford to have much more at that depth. Prussiking [rope-climping] with a hangover isn’t good.”

If you ever wanted proof of the masochistic quality of caving, all you have to do is hear experienced cavers describe how exiting a cave after a long expedition is among the best moments of any trip.

“It sounds corny, but the colours and smells of plants when you’ve been underground for a few days is amazing,” says Tobin.

This article first appeared in the Irish Times

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Make cash from your hidden assets

From renting out a parking space to making your garden available for use as a film set, many householders may be overlooking simple ways to earn a little bit extra, says John Cradden

Thursday July 29 2010

IN the continuing search for ways to make a few extra bob, many householders may not realise that some of the answers may be staring them in the face.

Do you have an asset, room or space around the house that you rarely use but don’t want to get rid of entirely?

We list some ways to make your property or assets work for you.

Garage or parking space

If you live in a busy urban or city area, or perhaps close to a railway, Luas or bus station with an overflowing car park, you could consider renting out a space to a commuter for one car either on your driveway or your allotted apartment car-parking space.

Demand for spaces in Dublin tends to be far higher than in any other city, and parking costs up to €20 a day, so if you have a space for a car you could earn up to €100 a month or more, depending on where you are.

According to, which helps advertise car parking spaces for rent, the main demand is close to a large area of office buildings, such as Dublin 2, 4, 7, 8, the IFSC and the South Docklands. Try also

Similarly, if you have a near empty lock-up garage, you could rent that out to someone with a cherished classic car, for instance. Check out the Garage Wanted ads on online classified sites like or property website

Rent a room

The rent-a-room scheme allows homeowners to rent out a room in their principal private residence and earn up to €10,000 per year on rental income without having to pay any tax on it.

This is a popular scheme with first-time buyers struggling to pay heavy mortgages, and it doesn’t affect your entitlement to mortgage interest relief.

There is also less paperwork involved, as you are not covered by the normal landlord/ tenant legislation.

According to, the cost of renting a double room in a house in Dublin ranges between €375 and €525 per month with a single room about €100 less.

Outside Dublin, a double room advertises for between €250-275 outside the main cities and Dublin’s commuter belt, and from €275 (Waterford city) to €350 (Cork city centre, Dublin’s commuter counties).

You could also consider offering your room for just the working week, so that you have weekends to yourself. Try Before you rent out rooms in your home, it is strongly recommended that you and the tenant agree some ground rules in advance.

Rent out household items

Do you have an expensive power tool, a sat-nav, or a musical instrument that you rarely use? You can rent them out to others through sites like (see panel).

Rent out your house or garden to the film industry

If you have a nice garden or house with some character, whether on the inside or the outside, you can make your property available to a film company as a film set.

The Irish Film Board has a database of all kinds of properties that are available as short-term film sets. It doesn’t have to be a mansion. Any type of home — new, old, luxurious or rough around the edges — can appeal to film-makers, depending on their storyline or budget.

The Irish Film Board doesn’t get involved in how much a property will earn for being featured. That is between the owner and the location manager.

How much you can charge depends on the type of property you have and the level of intrusion required. Make sure you sign a contract and get all agreements in writing.

Another option is to contact companies specialising in providing film locations, such as Irish Film Locations or Leinster Locations. If your home is chosen, you pay the location agent around 15pc of the fee they negotiate for you.

Holiday house swap

If you want a cheaper holiday and don’t mind having strangers in your home, you could swap your home with another family in Ireland or abroad for a couple of weeks. There are a few websites catering for this sort of thing, but try for starters.

It’s an even better idea if you have a holiday home somewhere and you’re bored with it or you can’t sell it because of the house price slump. A new home-grown website called specialises in swapping holiday homes.

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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Save money at music festivals

FOR many music fans, this weekend marks the start of the Irish outdoor music festival season as the Oxegen 2010 extravaganza kicks off at Punchestown Racecourse in Co Kildare.

These festivals can be great fun, but they can also be a lot like going on a full-blown holiday in terms of the preparation required.

If you don’t think ahead and prepare, you can end up spending far more than you might expect.

Below, we show you the best tips to save money.


Attending the biggest of the outdoor music festivals can be expensive as a three-day ticket can cost more than €200, particularly if it includes a camping pass. You can buy one-day passes for Oxegen for €99.50, although these are not available for the Electric Picnic.

As tickets are still available for Oxegen and other events, you might find discounts by searching auction site eBay or other online classified sites closer to the performance date.


Festival organisers encourage people to travel by as many different modes as possible, not least to earn their green credentials.

Bus or coach remains among the cheapest, but a reasonable alternative is to carpool — share a car with at least three others.

A group of four Oxegen festival-goers with weekend camping tickets can claim a free car park pass, which otherwise costs €30.

Check out, an independent car pooling service.

You could also consider taking your bicycle, with the help of the train. Secure parking is available at both Oxegen and the Electric Picnic.

If you fancy the idea of cycling all the way, Dublin bike shop has teamed up with both the Oxegen and Electric Picnic organisers to offer fans the chance to take part in a charity cycle from Dublin.

The cycle to Oxegen is taking place today, but there is still time to enter for the 90km ‘Tour de Picnic’ from Dublin to the Electric Picnic in Stradbally, Co Laois, on Friday, September 3. You’ll get free entry if you do.


Camping is the cheapest form of accommodation, but even if you already have a campsite pass, it’s worth thinking ahead if you want to save money.

If you haven’t got a tent yet and can’t borrow one, many camping shops are offering cheap tent packs targeted specifically at festival punters.

Capel Camping has a pack comprising a two-person tent, sleeping mats and sleeping bags and a torch, all for €55. You can buy a tent for as little as €20.

You should try and bring with you as many camping essentials as you carry — first-aid kits, torch, water bottles and so on, otherwise you may have to pay slightly over the odds at the retail stalls that feature at big festivals.

Food and drink

You may not be able to bring quite enough food or drink to last up to three days, but bringing as much as you can will help reduce eating costs. A cool box is useful in this regard.

Clothing and other items

There is always a good chance of rain, so think twice about bringing expensive or favourite clothing unless you’re prepared to see them get muddy.

Penneys has long been the choice for cheap but respectable items and accessories like t-shirts and shorts, but check out Dunnes, too.

Or you can find stuff in charity or secondhand stores for next to nothing.

What else to bring

If you need some advice about what to bring, check out festival websites for help.

But in general, it’s always recommended to stock up on earplugs, sun hats, sun cream, babywipes, and to bring enough cash so that you can avoid long queues at ATMs.

If you are camping, then toilet rolls, bin bags, and tape will always come in handy.

What not to bring

The risk of losing a mobile phone will be a bit higher at a music festival given the carefree atmosphere, not to mention the influence of alcohol and sleeplessness.

If you do bring an expensive phone or camera, make sure it’s listed on your house contents insurance policy as a specified item.

Or put your sim card into a cheap or old phone and buy a disposable camera.

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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