You, like most Americans, probably enjoyed the holidays a bit too extravagantly to the detriment of your bank account. However, you, like most Americans, are not out of the woods yet. The New Year is rife with opportunities for expensive expenditures, like exciting vacations, significant birthdays, family and friend gatherings, and more. Without a spending detox, your rampant splurging will develop into a costly habit that will wreck your savings and ruin your credit.
Fortunately, just like your New Year’s diet, you can get your spending under control with a healthy detox. Here are four tips to help you practice smart money habits no matter why (or how much) you overspent.
Set Real Goals
When your checking account is painfully empty and your credit score abysmally low, you need a goal to motivate you to save and spend correctly or you will hardly be able to sustain your proper behavior. Fitness instructors often say that flimsy resolutions such as “lose weight” and “get fit” rarely succeed because they are impossible to track, and finance experts will say the same about money goals like “save more” and “spend less.” Your objectives should be concrete and quantifiable to keep you invested in your financial future.
As you reach milestones on your path to your goal, you should reward yourself with small purchases that make you smile. For instance, if you are working hard to accumulate 12 months of salary in an emergency fund, you can indulge with a $50 shopping spree for every three months of income you stash in the bank. The incentive should never be big enough to poison your detox, but you are allowed to feel extravagant when you have accomplished something great.
Another wonderful goal for after a bout of excess spending might be “pay off my worst credit card bill in six months” ― a crucial goal that I’ll discuss next.
Start Paying Your Debt
As divine as credit cards seem when your checking account is low, they turn wicked fast when you can’t pay them off. The sooner you can pay down your debt, the sooner you can relax and enjoy regular spending and saving habits. It is possible to pay off your holiday credit debt ― or any unfortunate overspending experience ― in a matter of months, as long as you stay dedicated to the goal.
Despite comparatively high interest rates, credit can be easier to pay off than other forms of debt. There are many simple strategies that can reduce interest, suspend fees, and make bills easier to pay.
For example, you might try transferring your balance to a lower interest card or negotiating with your current issuer for a lower rate. Having a payment plan will definitely help you stay organized while you eliminate your credit debt. You can try paying off the smallest balances first to reduce your number of monthly bills, or you can pay off the bills with the highest interest rates to stem the outflow of cash. You can find similar tips here and on other personal finance blogs.
You should do anything you can to reduce the interest you pay, including transferring balances to help avoid high interest where possible, or paying off the highest-interest card first.
Make It Hard to Buy
While you struggle to pay off your debt and achieve your other yearly financial goals, you should avoid digging yourself into a deeper hole with even more extraneous overspending. It is nearly impossible to avoid shopping altogether ― you need to eat, after all ― but you can make it harder to overspend unexpectedly with a few tactics, such as:
Tell your friends and family about your goals. Though your spending and saving are your responsibility, it helps to have someone close keeping you accountable.
Never shop when your emotions are high. When you are hungry, angry, sad, or even especially joyful, you will be more likely to participate in retail therapy and blow your budget.
Delete all your online payment data. Right now, you should go into your browser’s settings and delete all your user data for online stores, especially PayPal, which is widely accepted on the Web.
Leave your plastic at home. At the beginning of every month, you can parcel out your weekly budget in the form of cash. Once your cash is gone, you shouldn’t spend anymore.
Compete With Yourself (or Others)
The best part of a detox is the sense of competition: Can you complete it without cheating? Can you go longer than your friends? If you have fellow overspenders in your midst, you should encourage them to participate in the same financial detoxification you are. However, even if you can’t find anyone else to pledge to improve their saving and spending habits, you can track your progress and try to do better than past you. By making the process a game, you make it infinitely more fun ― and easier to win.