Consumer Champion: Whether you're a happy singleton or a loved-up couple, there's plenty of ideas for Valentine's Day
No excuses - you're getting plenty of notice that Saturday is St Valentine's Day. This week I'm looking at gifts that won't break the bank, and for singletons I'm comparing what's on offer in the online dating world.
Internet dating fills many with renewed hope of finding that special partner, or dread that they'll end up with an axe murderer lurking behind the profile. Many online agencies are free, although they can charge a fee for 'selective' partnering. It's up to you whether you pay or not, but I would certainly check out internet chatter on boards about success levels. I've included the most popular ones in the table but they are not an endorsement.
If you do pay, how long is it for? Are you signing up to a year's contract or can you cancel at any time? Try not to get hood-winked by complex profiling 'questionnaires' - they may just be used to data mine information about you.
On some sites, you're required to post a photo - it might only be unblocked with your agreement, but do ask. Most sites have 'Terms of Service' pages - read them to see what it is you're signing up to.
Don't ever meet someone without having exchanged plenty of texts and phone calls first. Do your own research by checking out social network pages of the person to at least check they exist. Ireland is a small enough place that you'll be able to verify their existence fairly quickly on social media.
Make sure early dates are in open, public places; a day time coffee in the city centre is a great first date option - no lingering over lunch with someone you know isn't working for you and you won't get stumped for a big bill. Be vague about where you live - never give out your address to someone online.
If you already have a loved one, here are some nice gift ideas.
GIFTS FOR HIM
With celebs like Stephen Fry and Johnny Depp both sporting them, there's been an explosion in 'Mengagement rings'. Argos is offering a full range from a Steel/Cubic Zirconia band from €28.49 to a 9ct gold/diamond ring at €284.99.
A more traditional bottle of G.Bellini X-Bold cologne is available from Lidl for €3.99.
GIFTS FOR HER
You can't go wrong with flowers. Tesco has single red roses (€2) or a dozen from €3.99-€21.99. Marks & Spencer has a covetable Cherry lingerie set (Bra €35, Briefs €16) and a Heart caffetiere to bring her coffee in bed for €27.
Aldi has a full range of cards from 99c and a cute Valentine's bear (€4.99). If you fancy a night in, all their DVD titles are just €4.99.
Over at Lidl, their phenomonally successful Madame Glamour perfume (€3.49) is enhanced by a body lotion gift set (€5.99). They have a lacy lingerie range from €7.99.
GIFTS FOR COUPLES
A day at the races is always fun. Gowran park has a couples day on Saturday with a competition for a European city break with BMW transfers to the airport and €500 spending money. Entrance is €20. (www.gowranpark.ie).
Tesco has a Dine-In meal offer of mains (11 to choose from), two sides, dessert and wine for €14. That's great value - especially if you can persuade him to cook!
Whatever your plans, remember to find time to love yourself too!
Don't be shy when it comes to complaining
I'm a great one for complaining, as you know. Not just in a moany way, but I genuinely believe most companies prefer to hear when they mess up on something, rather than have you tell everyone you meet about bad service or products.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has issued research showing that a whopping 44pc of us experienced a problem with goods or services in the last year.
Most of these were related to internet and telecommunications issues, financial services products or electrical goods, which won't surprise anyone.
While an encouraging 67pc took some action by complaining, only 39pc found a full resolution - 46pc didn't, which means either their complaint wasn't valid (and sometimes we do complain about things which aren't a service provider's fault), or they were fobbed off.
When complaining over a faulty item, or a service not provided, you have three remedies in law: a refund, replacement or repair.
However, the store has the first call and may want to give repair a go, especially on electronics. That's fine; if it breaks again, come down the hammers on them.
I have twice used the small claims court successfully (€25, www.courts.ie), once just by threatening it, with full redress.
This means doing the boring bits, and making sure you understand what you signed up to first.
The new passport card will be a boon for many
There was I, just having renewed my (very expensive) passport for 10 years only to find that it's all changed. Well, not really. Passports are still necessary, but the Dept of Foreign Affairs has introduced a new supplementary passport card (inset right) which will be available from mid-July and costs €35 - it allows for travel within the EU. It's credit card size, so perfect for wallets.
Why, says you? Well, anyone with young adult kids, like me, always worries when they take their passports to nightclubs and pubs for ID purposes. Lose it, and it's a nightmare. So, this card will be a great alternative. Likewise, those awaiting visa applications who need to submit their passports to embassies but still travel in the meantime will find it a boon.
The card can only be applied for via a Smartphone App or with the Department (www.dfa.ie) online and it lasts for five years.