Whether you’re a careful saver or – thanks to the pandemic – an accidental one, the twin forces of zero interest rates and rising prices are creating a perfect storm that will slowly wear away the value of your cash pile if you leave it languishing in a deposit account.
According to the Central Bank, the startling rise in savings growth over the past year has actually tapered off over the last couple of months as the lockdown finally starts to lift, but ordinary households are still lodging cash in bank accounts at record levels – whether they want to or not.
But if you’re worried about the value of your fund being eaten away by inflation over the next year, what are your options?
1. Invest it
Assuming you are happy to lock away a sum of money for the medium to long term, an investment strategy – whether that’s putting your money into an investment fund or managing your own investments yourself – is well worth looking at. Needless to say, there’s always an element of risk, but there are ways to mitigate this and still deliver a return that beats inflation.
“I would generally direct those interested in beating inflation to look at the managed funds route and, in particular, the index funds, ETFs (exchange-traded funds) or even managed funds from the likes of passive leaders Vanguard or even Fidelity and Dimensional,” says Frank Conway of financial wellbeing provider MoneyWhizz and a qualified financial adviser.
“Other more actively-based managers can be more expensive and this will erode the long-term growth of money without necessarily achieving any more actual real growth compared to their passive options.”
For those happy to try the DIY route using online investment platforms or brokers, equities is “where the real inflation-proofing can take shape”, Conway says, but it still takes a lot of work and research.
“It goes without saying that a good supply of reason and less emotion is required to stand a chance of success. As equity prices rise and fall, the investor needs to take reasonable profits as they happen and also, limit losses.”
Property is riskier, he adds, unless you have significant funds to play with and you are familiar with the landscape of the sector.
2. Up your pension contributions
Paying more into your pension appears to be a popular move, according to a recent survey of pension advisors by the Independent Trustee Company, with more than four in 10 people increasing their contributions during the pandemic. It’s easy to see why, as paying into your pension has not one, but two tricks up its sleeve in any battle with inflation.
The first is that your pension will be invested in a broad base of assets, such as stocks and shares, property and bonds, that should help beat inflation in the long-term.
The second is the tax relief, at 20pc or 40pc whichever is your higher rate of income tax. So for every €100 you contribute, the real cost to you is only €80 or €60. There’s also the tax relief on the investment gains as well as the cash lump sum you can take when you retire.
You should be aiming for your pension to be worth at least twice the value of your home when you retire, according to Mark Reilly of Royal London. “€500,000 sounds like a big fund, but it might only provide you with an income of just over €1,100 a month for the rest of your life after you retire at age 60,” he says. So paying into your pension as a long-term inflation-buster is hard to beat.
You can also make additional voluntary contributions (AVC) to your pension fund that allow you to take full advantage of the tax relief.
3. Overpay your mortgage
Paying more into your mortgage may also have a lot to be said for it, as it could cut your mortgage term and save you thousands, but it’s worth taking advice on this if you’re not sure.
“We would advise any mortgage holder to give careful consideration as to whether they have access to a rainy-day emergency fund before using all savings to reduce their mortgage amount,” says Joey Sheahan of broker MyMortgages.ie and author of The Mortgage Coach. If you do have a sufficient rainy-day fund, then go for it but do run the figures past your lender or broker first, he says.
“If you had, say, a mortgage of €300,000 at 3pc interest over 30 years, you could save €5,200 by paying off a lump sum of €10,000, €10,400 by paying off a lump sum of €20,000, or €15,600 by paying off a lump sum of €30,000. Alternatively, by overpaying €100 a month, you could save nearly €20,000 over term of mortgage, and nearly €35,000 by overpaying €200 monthly.”
However, at least one advisor believes overpaying your mortgage shouldn’t be top of your list of inflation-beaters. “As an ‘investment’ option, it is overrated, oversubscribed to and under-delivers on value,” said Conway.
4. Pay down debt
At the same time as accumulating savings, more people have been using their extra cash to reduce debt, but the rate of household debt hasn’t been falling as sharply as the savings pile has been growing. Furthermore, the number of borrowers taking out personal insolvency arrangements (PIAs) hasn’t fallen much.
So if you have any ‘bad’ debt (i.e. consumer debt such as credit cards and personal loans that do little to improve your financial outcomes), using your savings to pay these higher-interest debts off is highly recommended.
Rank these debts starting with the most expensive (i.e. with the highest interest rates) and clear these first.
It is essential to check that there are no penalties for paying early. PCP car loans, because of the way they are structured, may not be a candidate for early repayment.
If your credit card bill is larger than your fund, an option is to transfer to a provider like An Post Money, who give you 12 months to repay at a zero interest rate.
5. Spend it on a big ticket item
If you already have a decent rainy-day fund, you’ve no bad debt, your mortgage interest is reasonable (if not, switch), and you’re happy with your current level of pension contributions, then of course treat yourself to a big-ticket item. If your hopes of splashing out on a summer 2021 holiday were dashed by the Delta variant, there’s always summer 2022. But if you’re happy to spend now, you can still be sensible about it.
For instance, buying a new car – particularly if it’s an EV (electric vehicle) – may be a better bet than a nearly new or a 3-5 year old model because used car prices here have stiffened considerably thanks mainly to Brexit putting a dampener on used car imports from the UK, where a lot of the best value used to be found. You will have to pay far more for a used car than you would have this time last year, and this is good news if you have a not-too-ancient car to trade in (unless it’s on a PCP deal).
Alternatively, if your home’s BER (Building Energy Efficiency) rating could be improved, spending money on a retrofit that improves your home’s energy efficiency is a great way to spend on a big-ticket item that will ultimately improve your financial outcomes – ie increase the market value of your home and save on energy bills. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland provides grants that will subsidise up to 35pc of the cost of a retrofit, which could include measures like external wall insulation, new glazing, solar panels and air to water heat pumps. That said, the cost to the average household of bringing up their home to a B2 rating is €30,000-€40,000, leaving you with a final bill of around €26,000, so you may need to borrow a little.
If you do, there are a couple of schemes that can manage the whole process for you, including the finance and the project management. One of them is ProEnergy Homes, run by the Credit Union Development Association in partnership with SEAI and Retrofit Energy Ireland.