I’m always a little bemused by those ‘going up/going down’ columns that you see in the weekend magazine supplements that enlighten you about the ‘coolest’ social trends. Since ‘money’ is just about the most uncool subject in the country this year, we can only hope that the worst of the events, like mass unemployment and pay cuts can be put behind us and that next year will be the year that we all rediscover the good value, practical, useful side of the euro in our pockets and our personal finances improve.

So in case you missed the last year, the following are my choices for some of the biggest money downers of the last year…and what might prove to be some positive developments for 2010:

The Low Points of 2009…

– The doubling of income and health levies. This blunt mini-budget whopper has affected the whole earning population, including people with wages or earnings of just €15,000, who may not have been paying any tax at all. Higher earners are now subject to Scandinavian-style marginal tax rates.

– The public service pension levy and pay cuts. Civil and public servants working in all but the semi-state sector have seen wage cuts typically of 10%-12% but even higher in the case of higher earners. A large blow telescoped over a very short time.

– The 4% loss of social welfare benefits for people with disabilities. Callous and unimaginative given the hundreds of million still being spent supporting government quangoes and Dail perks.

– NAMA: Top of just about everyone’s list except perhaps the fantasists in the Department of Finance, the National Asset Management Agency is a creature that will haunt every cost cutting decision the government makes. It has propped up insolvent banks, sucked away desperately needed capital for all other businesses, has distorted land and property prices and its servicing costs could yet bankrupt the state if global “recovery” to 2007 growth levels isn’t achieved. That in itself is highly unlikely in the hugely indebted West.

– The rising cost of healthcare, education, petro/diesel, insurance and transport. The cost of living as defined by food, mortgage/rents and clothing is down but not if you have health insurance, are educating children, running a car, truck or tractor and pay insurance premiums.

– Negative equity, negative equity, negative equity.

– The long term cost of the Great Floods of 2009, especially for those people who were uninsured or underinsured.

– The health levy subsidy of €160 per adult and €53 for the VHI that affects nearly two million people.

High Points for 2010?

– NAMA notwithstanding, the price bottom might be in sight for some residential housing. There were already signs in 2009 that rents and house values were correlating. Houses might be genuinely affordable again for first time buyers, but only in viable areas.

– A new agency will be set up to try to deal with the arrears and mortgage crisis in a more systemic manner.

– In line with falling incomes, we should expect the cost of services – from hairdressing to plumbing to GP fees to come down as well. Sheer market pressure should come to its fore in 2010.

– Private health care providers and insurers will also be forced by market pressure to tackle their own cost structures; switching and plan reviews will also cut several hundred euro off a typical policies.

– ECB interest rates will rise, perhaps by no more than 0.5%. Bad news for homeowners but good news, if it is passed on to savers.

– More, better value savings and ‘protection’ policies will be launched as banks are insurance companies return to basics. Charges and fees will for investment policies and pensions will come down.

– Flexible PRSAs – personal retirement savings accounts – will attract more company and private pension investors and will become more cost effective.

– People will rediscover not just ‘thrift’ but self-sufficiency. Watch for even more debt reduction, more recycling of goods and more ‘barter’ deals, as in, ‘you do my tax return, I’ll service your car’.

– Job-losses for 2010 will peak at 75,000, says the ESRI and the GDP will only fall by 1.5%.

– The price of gold will go up as central banks keep printing paper currencies and increase their national debts. Bullion dealers who correctly predicted $1,200 an ounce gold in 2009 say it may hit $1,500 or higher in 2010.

– As the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) continue to struggle under historic deficits the euro will come under more pressure but this should help exporters, US dollar or asset holders and the tourism sector.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign for 2010 is the determination of so many families, friends and neighbours to help each other out of their individual financial crises. Money will be returned to its rightful place – as a very useful and necessary tool, but not the central focus point of any of our lives.

Happy New Year, indeed.

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