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A Step-by-Step Guide to Nursing Your Holiday Spending Hangover

Santa is gone, the decorations are down, and chances are, you’re feeling the sting of your holiday spending. If it crept up on you, your budget is strained, and now you’re worried about your finances, you’ll want to come up with a plan to recover.

Step 1: Assess The Damage

Before anything else, you want to know what you’re working with and how to fix it. Calculate your recovery amount.

Review your budget or bank statements from November and December, then pinpoint all of your out of the ordinary, holiday-related spending. Beyond gifts, these expenses might be:

  • Travel to visit your parents back home
  • Food you bought for Thanksgiving
  • Drinks you bought at a holiday party
  • Office Secret Santa gifts

These are just examples, but the point is: add it all up. Consider every expense that went beyond your budget or usual spending, then come up with a solid number that indicates how much you’re in the hole.

Step 2: Find Ways to Cut Back

After you’ve crunched the numbers and know what you’re dealing with, it’s time to rein in your current spending. You want to come up with a new budget, based on how much you need to recover (or pay off, if you went into debt).

Start by cutting back on your non-essentials. What discretionary expenses can you give up? Look for small indulgences you can nix while you’re in recovery mode. This might be your Friday night sushi fix, your morning Starbucks run, or anything else that’s easy enough to cut. On the other hand, you do need some breathing room in your budget, and yes, that means leaving room for the occasional splurge. Cutting your budget too thin is not typically a smart idea, but an emergency budget should only be temporary, and you can slowly add expenses back in as your finances recover (if you even miss them once they’re gone!)

From there, take on your fixed expenses. These are your monthly expenses that more or less remain the same. For example, your car insurance, cell phone bill, or Internet service. Find ways to save in each of these areas. For example, you might:

  • Try to haggle a lower cable bill
  • Switch your cellphone to a discount carrier
  • Shop around for a cheaper car insurance rate

Step 3: Set Your Goal, then Come Up With a Plan

Now that you have your recovery amount and you know how much you can save, it’s time to come up with a realistic goal for repaying your debt or replenishing your savings. To do this, set smaller, specific goals every month.

On average, Americans say they spend about $800 on Christmas gifts alone, so let’s assume your recovery amount is $800. Shoot for a realistic time frame to pay that off, based on your own spending and income: maybe $260 a month for the next few months. Ideally, you’ve cut at least $260 from your budget in the previous step, and now, you can add your payoff goal to your newly reduced budget.

If you depleted your savings account to pay for holiday expenses, replenishing it is as simple as transferring $260 into your savings account every month.

If you put your holiday spending on a credit card (and so many people do), you’ll want to throw that $260 at your credit card payment, but also factor in the extra you’ll pay in interest every month.

Prioritize each one of your debts, and figure out how your recovery amount stands in line with them. Decide which debt you’ll focus on paying first, fold this new debt into the mix, add the monthly payment to your budget, and draft a timeline of your total debt payoff.

Step 4: Start Saving for Next Year

The best way to avoid holiday overspending is to prepare as early as possible. Yes, it’s hard to think about next year’s spending when you’re still paying off this year’s, but the earlier you get started, the better. You don’t want a repeat hangover when December rolls around.

Even if it’s just a small amount, add a “holiday savings” category to your budget. Another option might be to open up a separate savings account and transfer a certain amount from your paycheck each month.

Whatever your method, the idea is to build a small fund that you have to work with next year. If anything, this gives you a limit. When you don’t have a limit, it’s easy to say, Well, I don’t have anything saved, and I’ve already blown my budget, so I might as well go all out!

We’re less likely to overspend when we’re working with a specific amount.

It’s easy to feel guilty when you’re hangover, but when it comes to your finances, guilt doesn’t do much good. In fact, dwelling often makes the situation worse. Instead, focus on a solution. Coming up with a new budget can help, and so can declaring your goal and drafting a plan to carry it out.

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