by Gary Foreman
Depending on which poll you use, Americans spent somewhere between $700 and $1,100 on Christmas gifts last year. For a good many shoppers, most of that spending went on their credit cards. And, if history is any indicator, those bills won’t be paid off until May or June.
Suppose that you didn’t want to be laboring under those Christmas bills for months to come? Is there something that can be done now to get them paid sooner? Yes, there are things that you can do now to get those debts off your back. Let’s take a look at a couple of strategies you might want to consider.
Insurance eats up a fair amount of the average family’s budget. Just home and auto insurance can run hundreds every month. For an expensive item, very few people do any comparison shopping. If you haven’t taken a look at your insurance in the last year you may be giving money away.
The internet has made comparing insurance rates easier. There are a number of sites that provide comparisons. You may also want to talk with an agent. Insurance policies can be confusing. Be careful before you make a switch. Make sure that you’re getting the coverage you need.
Don’t forget to ask about your deductibles. That’s the amount that you have to pay before the insurance starts to pay for the loss. Often raising a deductible to the next level can make a big difference in your premium.
Finding cheaper insurance pays two dividends. First, you’ve saved some money. Second, you haven’t had to make any changes to your lifestyle. Not bad!
Another place to look for money is your tax refund. The IRS will send out checks to over 120 million taxpayers. The average refund check will be $2,100. For many workers their tax refund is a once-a-year bonus.
Of course, the sooner you file, the quicker you’ll get that refund. Once you do file, you can find out the status of your refund on the IRS’s website.
Unlike the insurance saving, your IRS refund really isn’t ‘found’ money. It’s actually your money. It’s just that during the year more money was withheld from each paycheck than was needed to cover your taxes.
Unlike the insurance idea it’s just a one time event. If you want a refund next year you’ll need to overpay your withholding this year again.
But suppose that you don’t expect to get an IRS refund this year. Then how about finding a few extra dollars every work day?
If you work you know that the cost of lunches adds up quickly. A simple sandwich in the company cafeteria or local fast food joint will cost you $4 or so by the time you include fries and a drink. If you go out to a sit-down restaurant, it’s easy to spend $10 when you include a tip. Many people work one hour per day just to pay for their lunch!
Many work places have a microwave oven available. That makes leftovers the ideal lunch. Instead of throwing out that extra serving from last night’s dinner or letting it turn green in the back of the refrigerator, take it to work for lunch!
If you have teenagers in the house you might not have any leftovers. Then you’ll want to consider forming a lunch club. Each member of the club takes a turn preparing lunch for the whole group. You’ll probably want between two and five members. The group can decide whether it should be kept simple like salad and sandwiches or if they want something more substantial like casseroles. You’ll spend less time and money providing one meal for five people than buying lunch for yourself every day.
No leftovers and you work alone? Don’t give up. You can solve the problem by increasing your income. One way to do that is to ask your boss for a raise or for more hours.
If neither of those is possible, you might consider joining the 7.5 millions Americans who hold a second job. In fact, it might do more than provide some extra income. You could learn a new skill or even try out an entirely different career path.
A second job is less stressful when it’s used to achieve a short-term goal like paying off Christmas debts. It’s easier to handle the extra workload when you know there’s an end in sight.
There are a lot of other ways to whittle down those holiday bills. Hold a garage sale, take some stuff to a consignment shop or sell them on e-Bay. Look for ways to reduce expenses. Cut your grocery spending. Make your own household cleaners. Join a car pool.
So even if you overspent for the holidays, there’s no need to get down on yourself. Just figure out what will work best for you and then get started!
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner.