Consumer Champion: Don't commit the sin of spending too much on communion outfit for that special day
It's Holy Communion season - and it hasn't got any cheaper. Every year, usually around May, 70,000 children head to the altar dressed like mini-brides and grooms.
Although ministers, charity heads, priests and Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin have all called for a sensible approach to the day, avoiding big costs and keeping an eye on the actual purpose, it doesn't stop some parents spending a fortune on their seven-year-old to get dressed up to the nines.
Dresses alone can cost in the hundreds of euro for something that will never get another outing, except as a hand-me-down.
I know at least two little girls who insisted they'd wear 'the white dress' for the church as long as they could change into a football strip once they got home. Boys suits aren't much cheaper but there is the chance they'll get another wear at least.
Such thinking made me opt for a second-hand dress for my daughter via a charity shop and beautiful it was too. It was then sent back to the same shop the following year - still perfect - for someone else to enjoy at low cost.
Vincent's shops along with Oxfam, particularly the South Great George's Street branch, and Enable Ireland all offer lovely communion dresses. You'll spend as little as €20 or splash out up to €50. You can always buy new accessories like a veil, shoes and bag if you want.
There are great deals to be had on Done Deal and Gumtree also - and check out boards on Mummypages.ie and Rollercoaster.ie to see where other parents are buying.
It's worth asking family members if they have a dress in storage that may only need a dry clean.
You can always buy a little gift to say thanks - and of course, hand it back clean!
I've had a look around some department stores to see what's on offer and there is certainly plenty of choice (see table), but there are dozens of smaller, local dress shops which offer something a little bit different, so it's worth checking those out.
Shoppers in Dunnes Stores benefit from having the talented Paul Costelloe on board and he's designed a lovely range in white and ivory from €55. John Rocha's collection over at Debenhams starts from €58.50 and they had 20pc off when I looked.
Online stores are also good value, but please make sure you have all the measurements right before you buy.
Check out returns' policies in case something goes wrong and my advice would be to stay close to home - Ireland or the UK just in case of late deliveries.
Your rights when shopping online are much better in the EU than in the States. You're entitled to change your mind, or instance, or have a guarantee on delivery date.
When it comes to catering, there are dozens of options.
To keep costs down, ask family members to bring say, a salad or dessert or consider asking a supermarket to prepare cold cuts for you. They'll also provide a cake and be able to advise on portions needed so you're not left with a heap of food on the day.
Ask a friend who is good at photography if they'll take pictures on the day, while schools generally offer a 'formal' portrait the following week for posterity.
Check small print if taking a health plan
Anything which brings down the cost of health insurance is a good thing in my book, so I am pleased to see all four providers introducing 'yellow pack' plans before new costs come in.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar is encouraging people to take out health insurance early in life, using the stick, rather than carrot, approach of charging those over 34 a penalty for waiting to do so.
Personally, I think he could get thousands more to sign up if he removed the levy the Government takes on every single policy of €399 per adult, but that's just me.
The new plans are restrictive and while they're better than nothing, customers should arm themselves with information about what's not covered.
Entry level plans start from €409 p.a. from Glo. Aviva is €425, Laya €430 and VHI €449. They cover public hospital admissions (i.e. you won't have to pay the €75 per night fee) in a semi-private room, which are like hens' teeth in any event.
What you won't get are extras like GP fees, elective surgeries or things like hip and knee replacements covered.
The other warning is that if you choose to upgrade your cover at a later stage you could be in for a wait: two or more years of paying the premium without the benefit.
Approach with caution.
Chip law is good news for dogs and their owners
I'm delighted to finally see new legislation forcing dog-owners to microchip their pets.
The law, which comes into place from September for new puppies will be followed through for older dogs in March 2016.
Although it's to stop animal trafficking, it will also identify marauding dogs and strays.
It breaks my heart to see animals, abandoned by owners who didn't realise the work involved in housing a dog, ending up under a car or shivering in the cold.
Chipping costs around €20 to €50 and is a very minor procedure.
It carries a code on a device around the size of a grain of rice, which can be scanned by a vet to see who the owner is.
Charities like www.bluecross.ie and www.dogstrust.ie often offer cheaper rates to owners who are financially strained and should be supported where we can.