First off, for any new visitors, let me introduce myself. My name is Jamie Griffin, or Mr. Jamie Griffin around here, and I am a middle school teacher. Aside from teaching, my other great passion in life is teaching people how to get out of debt and get ahead in finances. I graduated from college with about $50,000 in student loan debt, which jumped up to $90,000 when I got married. In the last four years, my wife and I have worked extremely hard to become debt free. We will achieve our goal in April and we couldn’t be more excited! I want to share our story and help as many people as I can crush their debt! My goal today is to help you get on the right track as you start the new year.
In all the excitement of a brand new year, millions of people around the country are creating New Year’s Resolutions. The idea of a new year is so freeing! It is a chance to start over, to fix past mistakes, to pave a new future, and a wondrous chance to make this year, better than last year. In the end, a New Year’s Resolution is a goal that people hope will last an entire year, many centered on improving the quality of life. On average, about 50% of Americans make some sort of resolution, but according to Forbes, only about 8% actually achieve or keep their resolution for the entire year! That is crazy! How is it that so few people stick it out? What happens along the way? I’m sure there are a lot of answers to those questions, and I am certainly not going to take the time to answer them all. Sorry, but we have more important things to discuss! I am here to talk to you about financial goals.
The website Statistic Brain states that the third most common resolution made by Americans is to spend less, and save more. And I can see why that is such a common goal. After three months of holidays stacked back to back to back (Yes I am counting Halloween as a holiday. People spend a crazy amount of money on costumes and candy!), people are hitting the stage of the year where they think, “Oh crap! We really need to get back on track with our finances!” It brings up the question, what does it actually look like to set goals and get back on track after an expensive holiday season? Let’s dive in and take a look.
Step 1: Analyze Spending from the Holiday Season
One important step to getting your finances back on track is to figure out how much you actually spent during the holiday season. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all have expenses that need to be accounted for, and sometimes it is difficult to keep track of when you are in the midst of the hustle and bustle and the rapid succession of the three holidays. One minute you are buying costumes and planning trick or treating routes, and the next thing you know you are loading up the car preparing to risk your lives driving on icy roads to a Thanksgiving feast, while simultaneously planning out Christmas shopping lists and how on earth you can possibly attend four Christmas celebrations in two days. It is madness!!! It all flashes by so quickly and hundreds of dollars are spent along the way. Now here you are in January wondering what the heck happened. I believe this is a common scene in America, one I was certainly a part of as a kid. If you plan ahead and set aside money throughout the year to spend during the holidays, I tip my hat to you and invite you to keep reading to see if you have any advice for my readers. However, if you are like most Americans and are hitting the “Panic!” button, I have a few basic steps to figure out your finances for the new year and make plans to avoid the same spending extravaganza next holiday season.
So now that the dust has settled, it is time to start picking up the pieces and putting your finances back together. One thing my wife and I do to help plan and track holiday spending is to make notes in our budget. The notes include how much money we spent on Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas presents, and extra traveling expenses. As a result, when November and December roll around, we only need to look at what we wrote down from the previous year and plan to spend the same amount of money this year. It is super helpful! Without these records, there is no way we would remember how much we spent the previous year. Now, we didn’t always have this practice in place. In order to leave ourselves accurate numbers, we had to sit down after our first year of marriage and actually track how much we spent!
Make Notes for Next Year
My wife and I are pretty diligent budgeters, so tracking our spending is already a part of what we do with all expenses we encounter. If you don’t normally stick to a strict budget, it is time to go back through your bank account or read through your receipts and start adding up expenses. I highly encourage you to keep expenses separate for each holiday. If you are like my wife and I and don’t spend much on Halloween, don’t even worry about that holiday. By the end of tracking, you should have a number for how much you spend on each holiday. It is also really helpful to break it down into subgroups. For example, my wife and I spend $50 on Thanksgiving dinner so we keep that expense separate from our $50 we budget for our Christmas tree, which we also buy in November. In the same way, Christmas presents are a separate expense from any food we buy for Christmas. Once you have tracked all of your expenses and split them into categories, write it down in your budget! We keep our budget on Google Sheets, but Excel or paper work just fine too. Whatever your system is, utilize it efficiently by writing notes to help you plan for the year!
Step 2: Analyze Credit Card Spending and Make a Plan to Pay it Off
In the 1920’s, Henry Ford was rolling out his assembly line and making automobiles more affordable to the middle class working family. One great innovation that Ford, and several other businessmen of the era, used to help make big purchases like a car more affordable was to encourage people to buy expensive items on credit. This trend roared through the 1920’s but didn’t stop with the stock market crash. In today’s society, most people don’t save up ahead of time for holiday spending, instead relying on credit to make holiday purchases. As a result, families rack up credit card debt in the frenzy to buy everything on the Christmas list, especially big ticket items. In 2014, an average of $986 was piled on top of already existing credit card debt! If you rely on minimum payments, that could take over a year to pay off with high interests rates, especially if you open the all too enticing store credit card to save a few bucks at check out. The point is, if you used a credit card to make holiday purchases, it is time to make a plan to pay it off fast! (And then a plan to avoid using credit cards next year)
Pay More Than the Minimum and Make Extra Payments
If you used a credit card (or two) during the holidays, the new year is the perfect time to check out your balance and make a plan to pay it off. One of the best pieces of advice I have about any kind of debt is to always pay more than the minimum balance. Most credit cards only require $15-30 as a minimum payment, which is next to nothing and will take you forever to pay off. Instead, I urge you to pay as much as you can to kick this nasty debt in the pants! Plan out your monthly budget so you know exactly how much extra you will have, then pay as much as you can each month until the debt is gone! In extreme cases, this might mean you have to go on a spending freeze or limit yourself in other areas like entertainment or eating out, but it will be worth it to get rid of the nagging expense of a credit card payment each month.
Another great strategy for destroying credit card debt left over from the holidays is to make multiple payments each month. I have done this personally and it really accelerates the process! Some credit card companies even make it incredibly simple by giving an option to set up automatic payments. All you need to do is schedule a payment to occur every Friday or every payday and you will see your credit card bill quickly disappear! Whatever your plan is, make sure you stick to it. Getting out of debt is about many small decisions applied consistently over a long period of time! You can do it!
Step 3: Start Saving for Next Year RIGHT NOW!
You are already set up perfectly to do this after steps one and two! If you followed the first two steps, you already know how much you spent on the holidays. (For complete accuracy, make sure you include your credit card balance in this total!) Now that you have the total, you can plan ahead to save that much throughout the entire year. The simple math is to divide the total amount spent on the holiday by ten. I know there are twelve months in the year, but I prefer to have all of my holiday spending money saved up before the holidays really start to alleviate any anxiety about breaking my budget and spend more freely. If you want to include Halloween in your holiday spending, it might work better to divide your total amount by nine so you can start spending in time for costumes and candy. The dollar amount you get after this simple math is how much you should set aside each month. You can put the money in a savings account and keep a running total of how much is there, or pull the money out as cash. It might even work best to open up a separate account you only use for holiday expenses.
Tips for Saving
If you have trouble saving money, use this tip my dad taught me. For years, my dad has always budgeted for Christmas by setting up a direct deposit with his paycheck. Each payday a specified amount goes directly into an account set aside for holiday spending. The money is taken out before he even gets to see it and he always has enough spending money when the holidays come around. Regardless of how you choose to save up for the holidays, January is a great time to start so you can avoid the trap of swiping the credit card next year!
Wrapping it up
If the holiday season put your finances over the edge, sit down with your family this month to track your holiday spending, analyze your credit card purchases (if you have any) and make a plan to pay it off fast, and finally begin planning to take some of the stress out of next year’s holiday season by saving all year long. Now that sounds like a New Year’s Resolution to stick with!
Let Me Know in the Comments
What strategies do you use to plan and save for the holidays? How does your family get back on track after the holidays?
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