Are You Still Paying For Christmas?

Note with words pay off debt concept.We have a question.

Are you still paying for Christmas?

If you’re like millions of Americans, the answer is yes – you are still paying for the joy and excitement of this last Christmas morning and maybe even a few before it.  Allowing credit card debt to add up is a common mistake and, sadly, reducing debt is always a lot harder than allowing it to accumulate.

If you want to pay off your credit card but aren’t sure where to start, we have some basic steps to get you on the right track.

  1. Face reality – How much do you really owe? Do you have one credit card? More than one? Add up those balances and keep that total in mind.
  2. Make a budget – No one enjoys the ‘B’ word but a budget or a spending plan is the most effective way to get your financial house in order. Not sure how to budget? We wrote this guide a few years ago.
  3. Study up to lower expenses – Study your budget and consider how you spend your money. Are you living within your means? Are you spending too much on impulse shopping or on weekend entertainment? Are there big ticket items like car insurance that you could save on with a little comparison shopping? Save money where you can and apply the savings to your debt. Click here to read about saving money even when you think there’s nowhere to cut. 
  4. Be timely – Each time your credit card payment is late, you face a late charge. Pay at least the minimum payment on time to avoid those charges.
  5. Pay extra – With online payments, it’s easy to make an extra credit card payment. So if you have a windfall –some unexpected overtime, a tax refund or some garage sale earnings – make an extra payment.
  6. Stop adding more debt – This should go without saying but you’ll never pay off that card if you keep adding to the balance. If you must use it, be sure not to charge more than you can pay off that month.
  7. Stay motivated – Staying focused on a budget and debt payoff is hard work. Look for inspiration anywhere you can find it. Hang a debt payoff thermometer on the fridge, read success stories on Pinterest or talk to like-minded friends who are also focused on financial goals. Another great motivation tool? Dream about how good it will feel to not have credit card debt hanging over your head.

 

Don’t Let Friends Derail Your Finances

Over the past few years, Meghaan Lurtz has had to turn down two destination bachelorette parties for dear friends. She was in graduate school and didn’t have the money to go.

“It felt really crappy, because these are people that I know and I love and I care about, and I absolutely wanted to be there,” she says. “But finances are what they are. You have a budget, and budgets have restraints.”

Lurtz is the president-elect of the Financial Therapy Association. She’s counseled people who’ve been in similar situations and said yes to both the pricey activity and, in turn, credit card debt.

After all, it’s hard to turn down fun with friends. But that fun can add up, as buddies expect you to shell out for group vacations or smaller expenses, like dinners, drinks and concerts.

Here’s how to determine whether you’re spending too much with friends and, if so, fix your finances without hurting your relationships.

Reflect on your — not your friends’ — finances
First, recognize that everyone has a unique “money mindset” that shapes financial decisions, says wealth psychology expert Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, author of the recent book “Breaking Money Silence.” Income and savings certainly play a part, but so do our upbringings, personalities, cultures and values. “What’s important to you and how you spend your money might be different than your friends,” Kingsbury says.

» QUIZ: What’s your money personality?
So resist giving the side-eye when your friend goes for those $600 boots — that’s her decision and her money. Instead, “try to come up with your own philosophy around money,” Kingsbury says. Determine what’s important to you — traveling the world, paying off your credit card debt or buying a home, for example. Then prioritize accordingly.

Kingsbury suggests scrutinizing last month’s credit card and bank statements to make sure your spending aligns with your priorities. Aim to get a broad sense of where your money is going and whether you ought to adjust your spending habits.

For example, you may want to course-correct if you spent $500 at the bars but put $0 toward that home you’re saving for. Creating a budget, if you don’t already have one, will help.

Spend less money (not time) with friends, if needed
Say you realize you’re overspending on social activities with friends. This problem is pretty common, Lurtz says, and it’s often driven by FOMO — the fear of missing out. You may say “yes” to every pricey dinner or group trip, for example, even though your budget screams “no.”

Remember that the point of these outings is likely more about spending time with friends than it is about eating or vacationing, Lurtz says. “So, if you can be with the person in a less expensive way, do it,” she adds. Here are a couple of strategies:

Use cash. Participate in the activity, but leave the plastic at home and bring only the amount of cash you feel comfortable spending. Unlike swiping a credit card, handing over cash feels more substantial and forces you to use “mental accounting,” Lurtz says.
“Believe me, you’re less likely to buy a round of shots for all your friends when you only have a $50 bill in your pocket,” she says. And you still get to hang out. “You’re out there, you’re going, but you also have the pride in knowing that you prioritized your goals.”

Focus on the friendship. You can always pass on activities you don’t want to spend money on. Fight that FOMO by spending time with friends in a different way.
For example, skip the $100 dinner with your crew and grab a $5 latte with those friends the next morning. “You’re honoring the friendship” and showing interest in spending time together, Kingsbury says. “But you’re coming up with an alternative for the connection they’re trying to have with you — at your spending level.”

Discuss money with friends
When you pass on an activity, thank your friends for the invitation and give them plenty of notice. Be honest about your financial priorities and respectful of theirs, Kingsbury says. Rather than complain about their expensive tastes, explain that you’re trying to save for a home, for example.

An open talk about your financial goals — and your friend’s, if she’s up for it — does more than lessen the blow of a declined invitation. It can help you become better friends.

Discussing our money and values, Kingsbury says, “increases intimacy and helps us understand where the other person is coming from.”

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The article Don’t Let Friends Derail Your Finances originally appeared on NerdWallet.