March 02, 2016
Saving up before the big bills roll in can protect your bank account.
You should start with a plan to pay off your credit card debt, and then tweak your lifestyle so you don’t live beyond your means.
Credit card debt can be stressful any time of year, but it’s particularly burdensome around the holidays, when the pressure to spend is greater than ever. A November survey of 1,000 adults from Bankrate, which aggregates financial rate information, found that for the third year in a row, Americans’ biggest money goal is to finally get caught up on their bills, with 22 percent of respondents citing “paying down debt” as their top financial priority.
As we head into the holiday season, many Americans have not saved up in advance to cover the costs of gifts, travel and other celebration-related costs. Almost half of those in the Bankrate survey said they are most worried about getting on top of their bills and 10 percent mentioned the extra burden of providing financial help to family members and friends.
If you’re among those trying to get on top of bills and debt just as the pressure to buy gifts and decorate the house mounts, here are some ways to pay off bills before the holidays without ruining the celebration:
1. Make a plan. Financial experts generally recommend either paying off credit card bills in full each month or at least figuring out how to pay down the balances with the goal of eventually paying them off. That approach will also help protect your credit score, which can suffer if you carry a high balance relative to your credit limit on your credit cards. It also means that when a real emergency comes up, such as suddenly needing to buy new car tires or pay an unexpected health care bill, you can more easily cover those costs.
2. Save more. It’s a simple but vital strategy ahead of the holidays, when spending tends to go up. Saving up in advance, so you can buy gifts and make travel plans without going into debt, will make it much easier to start 2015 on the right foot – without a massive credit card bill. Studies generally indicate that Americans are saving slightly more in the wake of the most recent recession. In the Bankrate survey,17 percent of respondents named “saving” as a top financial priority.
3. Stop charging. Instead of making debt a habit, identify fundamental changes to your lifestyle that will allow you to live below your means. Perhaps that means moving to a smaller home, giving up cable or cooking more from scratch – whatever helps you stay within your budget each month.
4. Earn more money. If you’re currently spending more than you earn, you can increase your income, decrease your spending or pursue some mix of both. One option is taking on a part-time job in the retail industry, which hires many temporary workers during the holiday season. You can also explore the many e-commerce sites, like Fiverr, to see if you can offer your services to others and make a profit doing so.
5. Think more positively. To be good with money, we have to believe we are good with money – at least many people say that a healthier mindset helps them make smarter financial choices. Consider lighting an abundance candle alongside your other holiday decorations, meditating on wealth or setting aside a peaceful hour to sort through your financial paperwork.
6. Celebrate your success. Instead of constantly beating yourself up over how far you still need to go, consider recognizing your past success and current progress. If you pay off even a small debt, celebrate with your favorite (frugal) treat; if you open up a new savings account, do something to recognize the achievement. Even small steps can represent strides toward a smarter way of taking care of your personal finances, and taking time to celebrate them can help reinforce your new, healthier habit.
7. Be your own creditor. Consumers who have emergency funds stashed away so they can rely on their own money – not credit cards – when unexpected expenses pop up are better prepared to weather financial storms and avoid racking up more debt over the holidays. Aiming to save 10 percent of your income (on top of retirement savings) for a post-tax savings account can provide a healthy buffer all year long.