Avoiding Holiday Debt

A Consumer Reports poll found that 10 percent of shoppers who used a credit card to buy gifts in 2012 have yet to pay off that debt. How many years have you spent the post-holiday season wishing you hadn’t spent so much on gifts? It was fun while it lasted, but it’s a struggle for many of us to pay off the debt we built up over just a few weeks. Shoppers can avoid holiday debt with the tips.

 

Shoppers can avoid holiday debt with the tips below from MHN, Health Net’s behavioral health subsidiary. Feel free to share these tips with your clients.

If you tend to overspend during the holiday season, you’re not alone. Even when we make a budget, it’s easy to forget those “little” expenses that add up quickly – gifts for teachers, shipping costs, higher grocery bills from holiday baking and entertaining.

Many of us don’t have that extra cash just lying around, so much, if not all, of our holiday spending will go on the credit card. Unfortunately, gift-giving via plastic can leave you with the gift that keeps on taking – a credit card bill that only grows with each minimum payment.

How can you avoid falling into this serious debt cycle? The best solution is to plan ahead so you’ll have holiday spending money in hand. There are lots of inventive ways to start saving up now. Give up “designer” lattés for a few weeks, and settle for coffee from the office break room.  Use a few free gym tryouts rather than paying for a membership. Put aside the money you save and add it to your gift budget.

If you haven’t already put aside enough to cover your holiday shopping, here are some tips that can help you avoid debt this year:

 

  • Define your limits – Think about your monthly living costs and about how much more you can afford for gifts. Then set a budget, write it down and stick to it.
  • Make a list, check it twice – List all the gifts you plan to give, and how much each is expected to cost.
  • Make an effort to include every little gift, and check yourself. Even the tiny items and stocking stuffers can add up! (If you don’t know the prices, you can get a good estimate by checking online.) You’ll end up spending much less if you know exactly what you’re buying before you hit the stores.
  • Think outside the (gift) box – Be creative about what you decide to buy. Go for uniqueness and the personal touch, not for expense and flashiness. Homemade (or home-baked!) gifts are always appreciated. Consider gift cards – they’re available in multiple amounts and will never cost more than you planned to spend on them.
  • Choose your stores wisely – Many gift items (particularly the little ones, such as sweets and scented candles) can be easily obtained at discount shops. Prices online are often significantly lower than those at traditional brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Try cash! – This may seem like a novel idea, but leave your credit cards home when you holiday-shop. It’s much easier to notice the bills you see disappearing from your wallet than to track credit debt as it mounts. The exception is big-ticket items such as major appliances or home electronics, for which credit cards could make sense. But for these items in particular, set your limits and stick to them before you flash any plastic.
  • Seek Help

Setting aside some time to plan now can help you feel good about your financial outlook later.

Through its EAP, MHN offers financial consultations to members, helping them rein in holiday debt and take control of their overall financial health. To learn more about how MHN can help your clients, please visit MHN’s website at http://www.mhn.com, call 1-800-327-7526 or email productinfo@mhn.com.

 

This article is for informational and self-help purposes only. It should not be treated as a substitute for financial, medical, psychiatric,psychological or behavioral health care advice, or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified professional.

 

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Stacy Madden