January is the month of reckoning when it comes to paying for the newest toys or technical gadgets with tomorrow’s pay checks. By now, the holiday decorations are down and packed carefully in their storage boxes, the tree has been hauled off, and here come the dreaded credit card bills. Your checkbook is looking sad and gone are the days of the traditional company year-end bonuses, which were great for paying off all those gifts we bought. 2016 is but a memory but its consequences remain.
So, how do you recover from your holiday shopping spree without going nuts?
First, be kind to yourself. It’s easy to bring out the whips and chains to flog ourselves once we see the true picture of what we spent on presents for family and friends. It’s okay. Wringing your hands over those purchases now is a useless distraction to creating an action plan that makes sense. Besides, stress has a way of putting the freeze on creative problem solving. Take a breath. Now, take another one.
Tackle the overwhelm. Watching the bills stack up can be overwhelming without a good plan of action. Carve out some time to sit down with a hot cup of calming chamomile tea to look at the facts and put on your favorite music. Dust off your budget and take out a calendar. Have faith you can do it and muster the courage to dive in and face this head-on.
Take one step toward being debt-free every day. Know this: you can’t tackle the problem in one day. In fact, it might take months to make a dent in your debt. Small actions add up to big results. Make the decision and move on.
Go on a diet. There, I said it. But I don’t mean counting calories—I’m talking dollars and cents. January is a great month to hunker down and count your pennies. Reassess your budget for the year and carve off a little from every paycheck to put toward paying down your credit cards. Forego the morning lattes. Make a pot of coffee at home and fill up a thermos for your commute to work. Resist the after-Christmas sales—you probably don’t need that sweater for a bargain price anyway. Challenge yourself to put a little more than you think you can toward your credit card balance. If you can afford $100 each week, push it to $125.
Find inexpensive or free ways to socialize. We all need a little cheering up after the holidays, so don’t go it alone. Try setting up some fun social activities with friends at home. Have a potluck dinner, invite a few friends, and have a game night. Or host a movie night and watch some old movies, serve a big bowl of popcorn, and make it an old-fashioned special event.
Moonlight. Taking a second job on the side can make a dent in your debt load pretty quickly. Many of my friends with kids would be happy to pay a trusted friend a little cash to watch the kids in exchange for a little “me time.” My days of tiny tots are behind me, so “borrowing” a friend’s offspring for the afternoon brings out my inner child and puts a little moolah in my pocket at the same time. I leave feeling tired but with a full heart. If you like animals, reach out to neighbors and friends who need a pet sitter or dog walker. You can also tap into your network and uncover some interesting opportunities for housesitting. Resolve to direct all your extra income toward either paying down your debt or begin a stash for next year’s holiday binge.
Break up with your bank. Take a look at your bank statement. Add up all the fees you are paying and take note of the interest you’re not making. If you’re ready for a different relationship with your financial institution, consider one that costs less and is committed to a mission of giving back, such as this one that pays you interest, guarantees low fees, and donates a portion of their profits to doing good in the world.
Do your taxes early. A whopping 83% of US taxpayers receive tax refunds. Don’t wait for the April 15th deadline to send in your tax return. Odds are there’s money waiting for you. It may be tempting to splurge on something fun, like a vacation or buying that new thing you’ve been wanting, but using your tax refund to pay down your credit card debt will feel better in the long run. Practice restraint, write the check, and send the payment before your refund gets lost in the shuffle of everyday expenses.
Think ahead. Start planning right away for next year. If you’re crafty, consider making next year’s gifts. Get creative and give time instead of things.
It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday spirit and spend a little more than you planned, especially when you have those shiny credit cards just waiting to feel the love. But it doesn’t mean you have to pay the price when the bills come due. Trust me, face your fear now. You’ll feel much better once you’ve got it under control.