OPINION: Jettison inertia and save money

Lazy man on sofa watching TV

Financial expert Peter Sharkey argues that getting active about your finances can save you thousands - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

For many readers with longer memories, the 1970s have returned with a vengeance. In place of the 1973 oil crisis, we’ve endured a prolonged pandemic followed by mounting industrial action, eye-watering wage demands and a falling pound which has further fuelled inflation through rising import prices. 

Furthermore, as this column has warned for several years, one basic rule of economics says that if a central bank prints mountains of money (quantitative easing), inflation follows as surely as night follows day.  

The pandemic has been directly responsible for collapsing productivity across the world, a development that was always going to be inflationary. Add in the effects of soaring energy costs, a direct consequence of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, and few folks still believe inflation will be ‘transitory’.  

Steady, higher-than-average increases in the cost of living are of understandable concern to the overwhelming majority of people. Moreover, it’s fair to say that no one is under any illusion when contemplating the corrosive impact unrestrained inflation can have.   

Every day we’re hit with a barrage of evidence which suggests that winter fuel bills are going to be sky-high. My biggest concern is for the elderly: each winter, thousands die from hypothermia – a national disgrace in a modern, Western democracy – but the situation could worsen within the next six months. It’s imperative, therefore, that we all keep an eye on elderly relatives and neighbours, some of whom might be concerned about turning the heating up as winter arrives for fear of being hit with a hefty bill.  

More immediately, people admit they’re now borrowing to pay their energy bills. Temporarily suspending the payment of so-called ‘green levies’ and other ‘social levies’ on utility bills, as many have advocated, would save consumers around 12pc. This would mean that as bills soar towards £4,000, the saving would be almost £500.   

The government can do much to share the burden of steadily rising inflation and soaring fuel costs, but there’s plenty we can do as individuals too, as I saw when on holiday in France last month. Inflation has hit France just as hard as it has here: petrol prices were actually higher than the UK, while the French are also suffering from an acute labour shortage.  

We stayed in Brittany for a few days with some French friends who have become avid online ‘checkers’ of the price of everything from rail and airline travel to home deliveries and car insurance. The whoops of delight we heard from the sejour one evening were the result of a 35pc online saving on a rail journey between Nantes and Paris: “Enough to pay for lunch,” exclaimed our host.  

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Our hosts were astounded to learn that while similar savings are readily available to British internet users, inertia is usually responsible for preventing millions of people from saving hundreds of pounds. “People don’t bother to type in a few details to discover how much they could save?” asked our incredulous host, who added: “Do they have money to throw away?”  

I told him most people enjoyed saving money, especially as the cost of living continued its seemingly inexorable upward rise. Dumbfounded, he shook his head and returned to his glass of wine, the only product significantly less expensive than in the UK.

“Why do folks suffer from inertia when they’re buying, say, car insurance?” I asked Ken Carter at Moneymapp Insurance, upon my return from holiday.  

“Our research shows that lots of people believe lower insurance premiums are ‘special offers' available only for a short time – which simply isn’t correct. In fact, most people save money on their insurance regardless of when they visit the Moneymapp site, ” he replied.  

“Others believe that savings of around £300 can only be achieved if you drive a ridiculously expensive four-wheel drive vehicle or a marquee name. Again, this isn’t true – the best savings are usually to be found on the most popular vehicles. 

“Nor do the savings apply solely to brand new cars. Irrespective of your car’s age, our motor insurance comparison tool, which sifts through prices available at more than 100 insurance companies, will on average almost certainly save you money when compared with your existing insurance deal.”  

Overcoming inertia could result in people saving hundreds, possibly thousands of pounds. It follows that the arrival of your car insurance renewal notice should act as a prompt to get up and do something about lowering your annual insurance cost. As inflation takes root, saving a few hundred pounds here and there could make an enormous difference and mean you don’t have to borrow to pay your bills. 

For more financial advice, check out Peter Sharkey’s regular blog, The Week In Numbers.