Drinking, smoking and bodily fitness are three targets popular with new year's resolvers

The new year brings with it sore heads, empty wallets and solemn vows that this year things will be different. The new year's resolution is a tradition that stems back to the Babylonians, but they probably weren't concerned with the three resolutions most commonly cited nowadays: cutting back on alcohol intake, quitting smoking and getting healthy. It goes without saying that all are beneficial to your health but there are also positive and negative financial implications to making a new year's resolution.

Giving up drink

After a year when everybody felt the bitter sting of pay cuts and higher taxes, it's surprising to see that we continue to spend a considerable portion of our disposable income on alcohol. Irish people spend more on alcohol than any other country in the world, with the average adult forking out €2,000 annually to keep themselves merry. Given that there are plenty of non-drinkers out there, it is fair to assume that some of us are spending significantly more than that.

As well as being very far ahead of the EU average, this high spending on alcohol is proving very costly for the exchequer: a recent report on binge drinking by St Patrick's University Hospital found that dealing with alcohol-related health problems is now costing the state an estimated €900m a year.

If the thought of going on the dry fills you with horror, you can still save money by being a bit smarter when you are drinking. There is no longer any shame in enjoying the odd tipple at home and you don't have to go up north to avail of cheaper alcohol – the discount supermarkets stock plenty of reasonably-priced and palatable wine and beer.

You should also consider practising moderation – by alternating between an alcoholic drink and a glass of tap water you halve both the cost of your night out and your chances of a sore head the next day.

Quitting smoking

As money-saving initiatives go, smoking is a no-brainer. Someone who smokes an average of 20 cigarettes a day will spend around €3,000 feeding their habit this year – giving up would be a major boost to your finances as well as your health.

That said, quitting is not easy. Studies suggest that only 1% of people who go cold turkey manage to stay off the cigarettes, so if you are planning on giving up, it is a good idea to seek help. The HSE-run National Smokers Quitline (1850 201203) provides advice and can give you details of your nearest HSE service. Free of charge, these services use a variety of support methods and drug treatments to help smokers quit and they have a 30% success rate.

The most common form of drug treatment is nicotine replacement therapy – patches, gum, inhalers, lozenges and micro tabs – but prescription drugs Champix and, to a lesser extent, Zyban are becoming increasingly popular.

It should be noted that giving up can cost money if you don't have a medical card. However, the cost of giving up is far less than the cost of supporting your habit, said Geraldine Cully, health promotion officer with the HSE.

"A person on 20 a day would spend approximately €57.40 a week on cigarettes. That is buying them legitimately, which does not always happen. Looking at the nicotine replacement therapies, prices range from €23.26, which is the cheapest, to €28.83, which is the most expensive. They are saving straight away. Except for the patches, people will not use nicotine replacement therapy for three months. If they get over six to eight weeks they are usually flying," she said.

Champix and Zyban are free on the medical card and available on the Drugs Payment Scheme so should cost at most €120 a month.

"For Champix, they will have a saving of €402 over three months if they never got another tablet. It is a significant saving, and given what you would spend over a year on cigarettes, it is absolutely massive," she said.

Joining a gym

Lots of us will be considering joining a gym after two weeks of excessive eating and boozing. This is the busiest time of the year for salespeople attempting to recruit new gym members and for many of those who sign up it is a case of marry in haste, repent at leisure.

The days of spending four-figure sums on gym membership are gone, but joining a gym is still a significant outlay given that most new members – an estimated 60% – will conveniently forget about it after the first few tries.

The National Consumer Agency (NCA) has been very active in this area recently and in 2008 established a set of non-binding best practice guidelines for the industry, designed to ensure that consumers do not get a raw deal when signing up to a gym contract. Last year, 422 people contacted the NCA because they were unhappy with their gym contract but most had failed to read the fine print, said Maria Hurley, NCA director of policy, advocacy and communications.

"In excess of 70% of the gym sector-related contacts received in 2009 related to contractual issues. It is clear from our assessment of the contacts received that a significant proportion of the queries related to issues where a consumer him or herself has not fully read or understood their obligations under the contract," she said.

It would be wise to check out the NCA's tips for joining a gym and guide to gym contracts at www.consumerconnect.ie before taking the plunge. The key thing is to try before you buy: rather than signing up for a whole year, go for a shorter period. It will cost you more initially but if you do turn out to be one of the 60%, it will save you in the long run. Also look for gyms that allow you to pay monthly or per use.

Simply Fitness in Milltown has been running a monthly system for the past year and owner Killian MacDonald said it has proved popular with people who have never been to a gym before and means gyms have to be extra vigilant to keep clients on board.

"It means we have to work harder to keep members motivated, to make sure that they are happy with us, the gym environs, and most importantly, that they are getting what they are paying for, which is results," he said.