When the reindeer cookies get stale and the 30,000 twinkling bulbs on your roof start to burn out, the post-holiday season often gives you a few new activities to occupy your time: fearing the mailman, dreading the phone and hoping you’ll soon wake up from your credit card nightmare.
It doesn’t have to be like that. With some safe and sound decision making now, you can maintain your financial health through the holidays and still have enough moolah left over for a six-month supply of that celebrity diet milkshakes.
If you look at all the 54 million American households with credit debt, the average amount owed is $15,788. Ouch. Debt often gets worse over the holidays. With gift giving, travel plans, eating out and parties spread throughout the winter months, it’s peak season for abusing your plastic. So here are a few tips for saving and surviving through the holiday money crunch:
1. Snag holiday jobs
We realize this may be easier said than done. You may already have a full-time job with demanding hours. Or you might be juggling several part-time jobs. Or you may have other demands and responsibilities, such as school or family obligations. However, some of you have no excuse. Yes, we’re talking to you… the 24/7 basement gamer, the soap opera addict and the weekend golf warrior. If you have the time and the need, part-time gigs are abundant during the holidays, especially restaurant jobs and retail jobs. Since seasonal jobs offer such flexible schedules, you can grab extra cash on your own time. And remember, a part-time job after the holidays can be just as helpful as one during them.
2. Find the middle ground between cheap and creative
We’re not encouraging you to be noticeably stingy. The last thing we want is for you to be gift-wrapping homemade macaroni necklaces or handing out handwritten "Free back massage" gift certificates to your BFFs (it’s kinda creepy). If you can’t afford pricey gifts for everyone on your shopping list, try tapping into your talents before you dabble in the third grade arts and crafts scene. Do you fancy yourself a photographer? Then how about snapping photos of friends and family, and tucking them in some affordable frames? Are you a closet Paula Deen fan and something of an amateur chef? Bake up a few dozen cookies and pass them out around the office in tins. (Just be sure to pay attention to allergies; nothing ruins a good gift like a bad case of hives). There’s also nothing wrong with hitting the sale racks for gifts - just remember to take off the price tags.
Then there are those trips to go visit the family. You know what’s cheaper than coast-to-coast airfare? A couple of computer webcams. Buy one for yourself, mail one to the relatives and spend some quality face-to-face time together. It’s the next best thing to actually clanging Champagne glasses on New Year’s Eve. If your loved ones live within driving distance, carpool with other family members and split the gas. To avoid sitting in traffic and wasting precious time, travel at night when less people are out on the roads.
3. Get some help
If you do reach a state of dire debt, consider credit counseling. Fast-talking commercial spokespeople and fine print can be especially deceptive when you’re desperate, so make sure you go to a reputable company.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a library of helpful articles and advice for those in serious debt and suffering from other personal finance problems. Whether you’re looking for ways to save money or want to find creative ways to fix your credit, check out the FTC resources available online.
Of course, you can always go the obvious route by hiding your credit cards for the next few months. Rent a lock box, buy a safe or mail them to Great Aunt Edna in Oshkosh, Wisconsin for safekeeping under her mattress. Hopefully the cards won’t get mysteriously maxed out on yarn, catnip and Wayne Newton vinyl.
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