Your questions answered

September 29, 2020

Q: My eldest daughter just started her first year of university at the end of September. Although she will still be living at home with us, between text books, stationery and a new laptop, the costs seem to be mounting. My husband and I have just returned to work following the COVID-19 lockdown, so we’re working to a limited budget. We’re thinking of taking out a small loan to cover the costs, but I’m concerned we might struggle to meet the repayments at the moment. Do you have any advice on the best option for us?

A: Starting university can be an expensive time for many families. As you have outlined, costs can quickly build, so an important first step will be to make a budget. Check out the CCPC’s budget planner at ccpc.ie to help you calculate all the costs that need to be covered. Making a budget and sticking to it can make a huge difference to managing your money, and can help you decide what is really important and what can be cut out. A top tip when it comes to budgeting is to regularly update your income and outgoings to make sure you don’t overspend.

Consider opening a savings account dedicated to university costs and encourage your daughter to do the same. Saving is one of the best personal finance habits, so if your daughter has a part-time job, why not ask her to contribute a portion to a savings account to help cover the costs. The CCPC’s savings Money Tool will help you compare interest rates on savings accounts from the main financial providers.

If you have to take out a loan to help cover your costs, try to borrow as little as possible, to limit your future debt. Check how much a loan will cost you and how long it will take you to repay, using the CCPC’s loan calculator. If you can, avoid spreading the repayments too far into the future, as this will cost you more in interest. Additionally, if you have a credit card try to limit how often you use it. Often, the temptation is to just pay the minimum balance on your credit card each month, which will cost you a lot in interest and could mean it takes several years for you to pay off a large balance.

Q: My fiancée and I were due to get married at the end of August, but due to the COVID-19 restrictions, we were forced to cancel it. At the time, we had already paid deposits to the hotel, the band and a florist. We have been liaising with all of them for the past number of weeks to try and rearrange a date for 2021. However, it’s proving to be very difficult to agree a date that they can all accommodate. If one of them can’t facilitate us on the new date, are we entitled to our deposit back?

A: As a consumer, when you place a deposit or make a booking with a supplier, you have essentially entered into a contract with that supplier. Whether or not you and your fiancée are entitled to refund of your deposit will come down to the terms and conditions of your booking with each business.

With this in mind, an important first step will be to check the terms and conditions of any written contracts that you have. Specifically, check what is stated in relation to deposits, and if there are any circumstances where deposits are refundable. It’s important for you to know that if the contract said you have a right to a refund at the time you made your booking, businesses are not allowed to change the terms later on without your agreement. So be sure to check your copy of the original contract.

The next step would be to approach your suppliers (i.e. the hotel, the band and florist) to explore what options are available to you and if it is to possible re-schedule their services for an alternative date. If it is proving difficult to agree an alternative date with all of them, see if they are prepared to offer you another remedy, such as a credit note or voucher.

If you have wedding insurance, it may be possible to make a claim on the policy, for example for lost deposits or other costs incurred as a result of having to cancel an original date. However, this will depend on the terms and conditions of the policy and when the policy was purchased.

Find out more about consumer contracts.

Q: My nephew’s first birthday is coming up and I’ve been looking online for a gift for him. I’m finding it very hard to figure out the quality of things online that he might like, such as soft toys and building blocks etc. Given that he’s only turning one, I want to make sure that whatever I buy is safe and good quality. Is there any way to tell if products are up to standard?

A: All toys sold within the EU which are designed or intended for children under the age of 14 to play with must meet certain product safety standards. For example, manufacturers have to ensure that they are made from non-toxic materials that won’t burn easily, that any part of a toy that could potentially come loose should be too large for a child to swallow, and that electrical toys are properly insulated and protected from live wires being exposed.

When shopping for children’s toys, your first step should be to look for the CE mark, as this is a manufacturer’s declaration that the product complies with safety regulations and meets the EU safety standards, which are in place to protect consumers. The CE mark should appear on the product, in the instruction manual, on the packaging, or if you’re buying online, it should be detailed in the product description.

Whether you are buying toys online or in a shop, it’s important to choose a reputable retailer, as they have systems in place to ensure their products are safe for children. Rogue traders may ignore health and safety standards meaning that you are at a higher risk of buying a toy that’s unsafe and that doesn’t comply with EU safety regulations or safety standards.

Here are a number of things to look out for when buying children’s toys:

  • Look for the CE mark: on the toy, instructions or packaging. If there is no CE mark, don’t buy it!
  • Look for the manufacturer’s details: Check to see that the name and address of the manufacturer and importer is clearly displayed on the toy or the packaging.
  • Clear safety instructions: Read any safety instructions on the retailer’s website and that come with the toy. They should be clear and in a language that you understand.
  • Avoid potential choking hazards: Check the product description and any product images available to see if the toy has any detachable small parts that a child could stick in their ears, nose or throat, and cause serious harm.
  • Ensure it is age appropriate: Check if there is a warning about an appropriate age group for the toy to see if it is suitable for your nephew’s age.
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