5 Ways to Get Back on Top after Slipping Down the Spending Hill
by Tiffany Amber Stockton
For most people, Christmas is a time of joy, laughter, peace and love. You’ve planned, prepared and thought of everything. The delight on the faces of friends and loved ones after they unwrap their gifts will never be forgotten. After the time of festivities is gone, though, far too many are left staring at a pile of bills and what feels like a black abyss of debt. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The good news is you’re not alone. So don’t beat yourself up over what’s been done. Instead, look forward to what you can do differently this year to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
For many years, I got trapped in the mindset that I was being judged by the quality and the price tag of the gifts I bought for others. I foolishly believed I had to buy the more expensive items or the things they wanted most. Otherwise, they would be disappointed in me. It’s been a difficult lesson to learn, and the change didn’t happen overnight. Here are some tips that helped me rein in my spending and allowed me to look at January, not with dread and guilt, but with an extension of the joy and peace I felt through most of December.
Write Out a Plan
This might come as a surprise, but most people don’t plan to blow their budgets at Christmas. Their budgets are blown because there wasn’t a plan. One thing you can expect is Christmas comes on the same day in the same month every single year. Unlike Easter, it never moves around or changes. So start out this month with a plan and a budget for Christmas. Start saving now and setting a little money aside each month that’s written into your budget, then only shop from those funds when you’re purchasing gifts.
Assess Your Budget
Another level of planning comes with not only saving the money but identifying where that money will be spent. Instead of dipping into your Christmas stash until it’s gone, make a list in advance of who will be needing or receiving gifts, and leave a little extra for those new people who come into your life throughout the year. These could be new coworkers, teachers, business partners, friends, etc. Allocate a set amount for each person and stick to it. If the amount you have for one person isn’t enough, maybe another gift didn’t cost as much as you thought (or maybe you found it on sale) and you can add that extra to the first person’s column. You might even be able to share the cost of a gift with someone else. Just make sure you don’t borrow from outside the Christmas stash without careful thought regarding that other category of spending.
Toss Your Credit Cards
This is one of the biggest traps in which this generation and even the previous two to three generations have been ensnared. When my grandparents wanted something, they saved for it. They sacrificed and went without in some areas so they could have abundance in others. It’s an entire mentality switch from “have to have it now” to “I can wait.” We’re told every day, usually multiple times each day, how much we “deserve” to have something, and how we’ve “earned” it, so it’s okay to use a credit card to buy something we can’t afford now and pay for it later. The sad truth is the majority of those who do this can’t afford to pay for it later. That’s likely why you’re reading this article. So “discover” the power you have when you become the “master” of your money and peace is “everywhere you want to be.”
Shop with Purpose and Intent
Much like establishing a budget for your money, you also must establish a plan for your shopping habits. Don’t tell yourself you’re just going to pop into a store to look around. Instead, stay away from the stores (in person and online) unless you have a genuine reason to be looking. There’s a reason why companies spend millions of dollars on advertising and marketing. They know exactly what will result in you parting with your hard-earned money, often without you realizing it. They’ve got it down to a science. Don’t let those marketers get the best of you. Instead, get ahead of them by staying away from the stores until you are shopping with a purpose.
Make Personal Sacrifices to Pay Off Your Debt
Take stock of your debts, make a list, and pay off your smallest debt first while continuing to make the minimum payments to the other debts. This can often be done with one, or maybe two payments, and it helps you have a feeling of success that propels you to continue. Continue down the list until the debt’s done. Sometimes, this might require a consolidation or personal loan to reach your goal faster. While paying minimum payments might mean you’re paying off debt for several years, a personal loan could see the debt gone in less than a year, and it gives you a set structured payment plan. Tax refunds could be another option.
While you’re getting back on your feet financially, you’ll need to sacrifice a bit to gain that extra money needed to pay off the debt. This might mean eating out less, bypassing the line at Starbuck’s (or as I like to call it, Five Bucks), or canceling cable or Netflix for a while. It’s not pleasant, and it will likely make you antsy or even aggravated, but take it from someone who knows, someone who’s been there. You’re the one responsible for your current situation, so as much as it will hurt, you’ll need to endure the temporary circumstances on your way to better living.
Don’t leave your financial future to whims and impulses. Decide today to have this past Christmas be the last one where holiday spending sets you back. Start right now on the path toward a life without debt.
Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having a very active imagination and cited with talking entirely too much. Today, she has honed those childhood skills to become an author and speaker. She is also an educational consultant with Usborne Books. She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado.