10 Cures for a Holiday Debt Hangover

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Most people use credit cards for holiday purchases, even if they intend to pay them off in the new year. Since Chase is a Certified Personal Finance Counselor and Educator, he has some great advice, and I thought his post about paying off holiday debt could be helpful. A longer version of the post below was originally published here. Check out his company’s blog if you’d like to learn more about budgeting and managing your credit wisely.

The holiday season has to come to an end, and for many consumers the new year brings credit card statements reminding you of purchases you made. If you racked up credit card debt when holiday shopping, we will give you a few tips on how to pay off your credit cards. Setting up a plan can keep holiday credit card debt from going deep into 2013.

1. Get organized – Collect your statements and see how much you owe. In order to set up a plan to pay off debt, it’s important to know exactly how much you need to pay back. Gather your statements or go online and check your balances.

2. Budget time – If you have a budget, take a good look at it and see why you fell into debt. If you don’t have a budget, it’s time establish one that works for you and your family. One thing to try when setting up or adjusting a budget is to track your expenses for an entire month to see where your money goes.

3. Adjust your budget – If you are falling behind every month take a look at your budget and see where you can make cuts, whether it’s the small expenses or a large fixed expense. If you previously did not have a credit card payment or if your payment will increase, add the new payment amount to your budget.

4. Do the math – Look at a credit card debt calculator and find out how long paying off your debt will take and how much you will pay in interest. Understand the benefits of fixed credit card payments, how to calculate APRs and why making minimum payments can lead to years of financial hardships.

5. Set your goals – Establish goals for paying off debt. If your debt is just from the recent holiday season, paying it off could be a short-term goal – maybe in the first quarter of 2013? If your debt has been building up for some time, your goal may be a long-term one.

6. Interest rates – If your interest rates are high, make sure you look into your options to pay back debt. Contact your credit card companies and see if you can have interest rates lowered. Lower interest rates will always save you money and time when paying off debt.

7. Pay extra – This is, of course, easier said than done. If you have extra funds at the end of a month, send an extra payment to your creditors. Sending extra payments can go a long way toward paying off debt early and can save you in finance charges. Every extra payment you send will go directly towards the principal still owed on the account. Paying down the principal will mean less interest paid for every month thereafter.

8. Monitor your progress – It’s important to monitor all of your accounts every month. Making payments is just one part of the equation; you should always open your statements or check your account online. Monitoring accounts allows you to be sure your payments are posting and your interest rates have not increased.

9. Don’t “Rob Peter to Pay Paul”- No matter how desperate you are to pay the bills, don’t: raid your retirement funds, take out a payday loan, or prioritize credit card bills over necessities, such as paying housing costs.

10. Begin planning for next holiday season – One thing about paying off debts and how much we hate it is…we can do something about it! It just takes a little planning. In earlier tips we encouraged you to start a budget and set goals for paying back the debt. We can do the same thing by planning for gifts and setting aside cash for those purchases prior to “Black Friday.”

Regardless if your credit card debt is just a hangover of your holiday shopping and a few hundred dollars or has been building for years to thousands of dollars, paying it off as soon as possible will relieve stress and save you money in the long run. Use our free tools to help you set up a plan and pay off your debts as soon as possible, with the least amount of finance charges. Don’t get discouraged, stick to your plan and become debt free!

Little things I’m thankful for, day 7: my family

The past six days of “little things I’m thankful for” posts have been about things that somehow make my life easier. Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I thought I’d write about the people I am most thankful for (and the reason I started this blog in the first place): my family.

I am thankful that I married Chase. He is so patient (unlike me) and such a hands-on, devoted dad. I can handle being a working mom because I have him as a partner. We’re a team and I am so glad that I flew across the country for his brother’s engagement party and met him. I thought he was cute, but he lived in California and I thought California was weird. I still think that, but moving here was the best decision I ever made. I married the love of my life and had two beautiful babies with him.

I am thankful that Clay was my first-born. He is such a sweet, smart, handsome boy. He asks so many questions and never stops talking, but he cares so much and so deeply about everyone. Clay is cautious and introspective. He is honest and loving. Clay will make a wonderful husband someday, but for now I’m thankful that he “wants to live with us forever and make us dinner while we relax and watch TV.”

I am thankful for the joy and light that is my Avery Grace. For the first two years of her life, she only cried if she was tired or hungry and not much has changed. Avery is the type of person that everyone wants to be around – she lights up a room and makes us laugh constantly. She is independent and bossy. She will make boys crazy, but they won’t be able to resist her charm and the way that smile makes them feel like a million dollars.

This Thanksgiving, more than ever before, I feel like I have everything . I am so thankful for our many blessings, but even if we had no material possessions, we would have each other. The patient one, the sweet one, the one who makes me laugh and me. Today, it’s not such a little thing that I am thankful for. Family is everything.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Marriage isn’t hard, life is

Interesting timing – my “Life’s Little Instruction Calendar” agrees that life is hard.

I often hear people say “marriage is hard.” I disagree. I’m not saying my marriage is perfect, but with the ups and downs our family has experienced the past few years, I’ve realized that marriage isn’t hard, life is. You can be cruising along, then something knocks you off course. The success or failure of your relationship is dependent on the way you deal with the hard times. If you can work together (and it is a lot of work!) to get through the rough patches, there is a good chance you’ll still be together when life is good again.

After years in a stable job with the Padres, Chase took a chance to join a startup company soon after we got married. Then he was laid off. Twice. I did some contract work on top of my day job, while he looked for work. I edited his cover letters and helped him search every night. We were stressed about money, but worked together to get through it.

Chase got a new job, we had Clay and things were great until we had five family members die in a year (the year I lost my dad). Before my dad died 15 days after Avery was born, life was going well. I had this beautiful family and then one late night phone call changed everything. I felt that the rug was pulled out from under me, leaving me lying in a heap on the floor (literally). But Chase was there to pick me up.

Recently we hit another speed bump. I was told there was a good chance I’d be losing my job, if my company was acquired by a larger firm. Jobs come and go, and this loss is nothing compared to losing my father, but it would be a loss of identity and security. It caused second-guessing of life decisions and incited panic that I wouldn’t be able to help support my family. I was unsure of my fate for several weeks before I found out that my job is safe. I didn’t sleep well at night and being in a state of limbo is terrible, but at least Chase was there with me.

Things are looking up again. We’re heading out of town to see old friends and the next few months are filled with other fun activities. We’re cruising along until life’s next challenge. This time we’ll be ready, because life is hard! Being married to Chase is not.

Making time for exercise

I hope everyone had a great Labor Day! Like all summer holiday weekends, we had fun at Big Bear Lake with family and friends. It was nice to get away for a few days, though with 10 adults and 12 children in one house, I’m not sure I would call it relaxing. I need a vacation from my vacation…or maybe just a good workout?

Before kids, I exercised three or four times a week because I knew it was good for me. I’m fortunate that I have a fast metabolism and I didn’t “have” to do it to lose or maintain weight. Finding time or motivation to work out when the kids were babies was hard. I didn’t feel guilty leaving them for work, but I felt bad putting them in the gym day care, when I’d been away from them all day. I ran a few times a week because that was less of a time commitment, and I could wait until Chase got home from work so they were home with one of us.

This year I decided that I needed to make some time for myself and I wanted this “me time” to be something that was good for me both physically and mentally. I bought a two-week Amazon Local deal to try The Dailey Method. The first class was hard, but in a good way. I loved how it forced me to stretch and be mindful of my body, which I didn’t take the time to do when running. It is a great group of women and a local business with a young female owner, who I feel good about giving my money to. For 60 minutes a few times a week I don’t think about work or kids or house projects. I appreciate my body and take care of both my muscles and my mind. I’ve seen a huge change in both.

I know how hard it is to fit in exercise and to overcome the guilt associated with leaving your kids to do something for yourself. But it’s not just for you. A healthy parent will be around longer. A happy parent will be more patient and loving with their kids. Chase also got a personal trainer this year. He wakes up early to go to the gym and does a boot camp class twice a week. We are spending money to stay fit, but it’s worth every penny. We are less stressed and our bodies are healthier. Definitely time and money well spent…

Team effort

With Clay starting preschool, our morning routine has gotten more complicated. Instead of one drop off we now have two (five miles apart), we have to pack him a lunch and we need to leave the house earlier.

I was saying goodbye to the kids today when Chase asked me to get them some milk. I told him that I needed to leave (I go in early so I can get home earlier) and he would have to do it, to which he responded that some of our male friends “don’t have to deal with these types of routines in the mornings.” Trying not to sound snappy, I replied, “well, their wives work part-time.” I know that being home with kids part time and working part time still equals a full-time job (or more), but they have a bit more flexibility than I do in the mornings. This is not to say they have it easy and I have it so hard. It’s a personal decision and we all try to make the best choices we can for our family. 

I know he didn’t mean to snap at me. Between the change in our routine and exhaustion from Avery’s odd sleeping habits lately, it is easy to feel frustrated. I have felt it too this week.

I realize my career would not work for my family, if it weren’t for Chase. I breastfed my kids, so clearly Chase could not help with that. He did however, bathe them and play with them. He fed them baby food and now makes meals for them. He changed diapers and now convinces Avery that going potty is fun. He doesn’t do laundry, but that is because I’m afraid he’ll mix up my carefully organized drawers and then it will just take me more time to redo it.  So I do that. I make doctor’s appointments and pay our bills. He does yard work. I grocery shop. He takes Clay to swim lessons. I take Avery shoe shopping. Working parents have a lot to juggle, and in our house, it really is a team effort.

Team parenting is a relatively new concept. As was common in the 70s and 80s, both of our dads worked and our moms did housework and cooked. My mom said my dad was very helpful and hands on when he was home and that doesn’t surprise me. I know he would be so proud of the dad Chase has become, helping to make life easier for me and more fun for the kids. He’s pretty great and I know I’m lucky. Now if only he would put away his shoes and empty the dishwasher, he would be perfect…