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PriceWatch - Upside to the downturn

PriceWatch - Upside to the downturn

January 26, 2009 | by Conor Pope

EVERY EVENING George Lee does his turn on the RTÉ news, the nation’s hearts collectively sink. While his reports on the dreadful state of the Irish economy are generally right on the money, they are gloomy enough to make the most upbeat of souls sob into their cut-price oven chips. No one could deny that we are in a dire state, but, amidst all the incredibly depressing news about the state of our finances, there are reasons to be cheerful. Here are just some of them.

1 Eat out for less

Some of Dublin’s best restaurants have cut their prices significantly in recent weeks as part of a promotion aimed at attracting diners through their doors. Chapter One, L’Ecrivain, Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill and the Town Bar and Grill are amongst the upmarket places offering a two-course lunch with a glass of wine for just €20 as part of a January sale that runs for the next few days. Eamon O’Reilly’s One Pico, meanwhile, has been offering longer-term deals of three course lunches for €19.95 (down from €37.50) and a five-course dinner with a fixed price of €45.

“I think people are looking for real value – to get the corporate clients back at lunchtime you have to offer better value, and at nighttime people maybe couldn’t afford to eat in a restaurant like ours once a week, but with a fixed price menu of €45 per head they can,” O’Reilly told Pricewatch last week.

2 Cut-price housework

The days of builders sneering at our pleas to build extensions or plaster some walls because they considered the job to be too small have gone. According to Ted Laverty, whose site, now has over 11,000 licensed tradesmen looking for your business. “Tradesmen recognise that they need to market their services and be more price competitive than before,” says Laverty. The sector has seen big changes since the highs of 12-18 months ago. “There are now more professionals working in the domestic repair, maintenance and improvement sector, with many filtering in from the flagging commercial sector.” Prices for low-level home improvement work has fallen by in excess of 25 per cent, industry sources say.

3 Cut-price mortgages

In September of last year, a person with a €300,000 mortgage over 30 years was paying €1,713 each month. Now, after four rate cuts from the European Central Bank, the repayments on the same mortgage are €1,314 – a monthly saving of €399. With a further ECB rate cut widely anticipated in March, another €100 will probably be knocked off that mortgage, taking the annual saving to a very substantial €6,000.

4 Lower rents

It is not just mortgage holders but renters who have seen an unexpected upturn in their fortunes. Rents fell back to 2006 levels last year and analysts are predicting they will drop by a further 10 per cent this year. The number of properties for rent on has increased four-fold to 20,000 over the last two years while, which is owned by this newspaper, saw the number of rental properties advertised on its site double in the second half of last year.

5 Cheap food back in the shops

This time last year all the talk was of rising food prices. Now, Irish supermarkets are fighting hard for consumers’ cash and using wide-ranging promos to draw people in. In one Sunday broadsheet newspaper last week there were five pages almost back-to-back from competing supermarkets. Dunnes Stores promised substantial discounts on named products as well as offering 20 per cent back on all frozen food when bought using a loyalty card.

Tesco was offering a range of half-price and buy-one-get-one free promos while Supervalu was also caught up in the frenzy with wine, biscuits, juice, fruit and vegetables all available at 50 per cent less than normal. Marks Spencer did not advertise in the Republic but has a deal of its own that is being spread through word of mouth. Its popular Dine In For €12.50 occasional promotion offers a main course, a side dish, a dessert and a bottle of wine for that remarkably low price.

A spokeswoman told Pricewatch that the promo will continue and next month shoppers can expect a Valentine’s weekend “Love In”, while in March a “St Patrick’s Weekend Dine In” will run from March 12th to 15th.

6 Cheaper fuel

Although a number of Pricewatch readers have been in touch in recent days to complain about the price of petrol and diesel creeping up again, it has fallen by over 30 per cent since last summer. According to the latest price survey by AA Ireland, it reached a four-year low earlier this month when a litre of petrol cost an average of 94.6 cent, down 6.8 cent since December’s survey. The price of diesel fell by 7.4 cent to an average of 94.4 cent a litre. Last summer, the average prices were 133.5 cent a litre for petrol and 143.8 cent for diesel.

7 Falling prices

While prices across a range of goods and services in Ireland have been rising at a considerably faster rate than the EU average for many years, there has been a dramatic shift in recent months as confidence ebbed, and the Republic now has one of the lowest inflation rates in the euro zone. In addition to the 30 per cent drop in the price of fuel, air fares fell 10 per cent last month and pre-Christmas sales held by struggling retailers led to a 2.7 per cent monthly fall in clothes prices.

8 Driving a better bargain

When €1 was buying 98 pence at the start of this month, one reader travelled to Northern Ireland and picked up an ’06 VW Passat for just over €9,000 even when VRT was factored in. Another reader bought himself a three-year-old BMW 320d from a Bristol-based BMW dealership for €14,000 after VRT was factored in – a saving of well in excess of €6,000 on a similar model being sold by Irish dealers.

9 Cheaper entertainment

It is not just people in the market for big-ticket items who can take advantage of the strong euro. Many readers, furious at retailers’ failure to pass on the full – or even any – of the benefits of a weak pound to consumers in the Republic, have taken matters into their own hands and found real bargains without having to travel across the border. Books, CDs and DVDs have become substantially cheaper than they used to be when bought on US sites such as or their UK counterparts.

10 Yes he can?

Not only does US president Barack Obama have the weight of his own country’s expectations resting heavily on his shoulders, most of the rest of the world is desperately hoping he has some class of miracle cure for the US’s economic flu which will have a knock-on benefit of saving us all from economic doom.

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