You overdid it. Again. We all have.
We’ve all woken up from way too much…excess…feeling miserable and defeated, swearing it won’t happen the next time.
But this time, the pain isn’t (totally) physical, it’s (mostly) financial. December and January are a blur. You have weird, overlapping memories of noisy rooms and all of your friends, and a lot of taking out your credit card and slapping it on the counter. The whole thing has left your wallet dry and your skull is just throbbing with financial insecurity. The pain is a constant reminder of what you did, when you knew better; every time that you should have said “no really, I can’t, I’m saving.”
So, here are a few tips for making sure that this time is the last (swear it); it will never happen again.
1. Pay off the lowest balance first.
There’s some advice out there that says your best bet, financially, is to pay down the debt with the highest interest first. But Indianapolis-based personal financial wizard Peter Dunn (Pete the Planner) says that’s not always your best option.
According to Dunn, you should pay off your debt with the lowest balance first because the psychological benefit from seeing just one payment off your list is well worth the difference in dollars. The idea is that with a relatively short-term “win”, you’re more likely to reap the emotional rewards, and therefore, you’re more likely to build up some momentum to go after larger ones. It’s a simple plan, but it’s brilliant.
2. Take stuff back.
Check through your holiday haul to see what’s still eligible to go back to the store. If the tags are still on any clothing that hasn’t been worn and if you still have the original packaging for any electronic devices, you may be entitled to a full refund.
In the case of some high-end purchases, like home audio/video equipment, you may be charged a restocking fee of 15-25%, but if you’re desperate enough to read this list, you may be desperate enough to gladly accept seventy-five cents on the dollar. This is a particularly good tip for anybody who binge-shops during the rest of the year, too.
3. Figure out what you can live without.
Forget coffee and the necessary luxuries, take a look at things you don’t absolutely have to have. What ongoing services do you not use anymore? Is there a gym membership that you haven’t used since April? A monthly gaming pass that you haven’t used since you had that talk with the Significant Other?
Make sure to check your bank statement for any recurring charges you’ve forgotten about. If you’re not using your Amazon Prime anymore, don’t renew it for another year. If you only started a HULU account for the Walking Dead and they show it on a six month delay, for goodness’ sake, watch it at a friend’s house.
Speaking of streaming entertainment, if you still have cable, why not cut the cord? For around $50 in internet access, $30 for a Roku stick and another $9 for Netflix, you could be entertained until your next major pay raise.
4.Use an app like Mint to keep track of your expenses.
Use a financial tracking app like Mint to watch what you spend on things like food, entertainment and utilities. If you can see the massive cash barge that heads out every month just to be able to eat lunch out of the office, it’s an incredible incentive to go to the grocery store and make yourself a daily sandwich or salad.
Surely, it’s worth your time and effort to save $5-10 a day that you could be using to pay down your credit card bills. If you need a guide that shows, ideally, how much to spend on which parts of your life, check out Pete’s recommendations here.
5. Bribe yourself.
If you can’t rely on sheer force of indignation, guilt or embarrassment to stop you from going out to eat during the week, try signing up for a service like Stickk. Because, we, as human beings tend to be better at avoiding immediate pain than we are at making and keeping long-term goals, Stickk uses self-initiated extortion to force you to do the thing you’ve promised.
You sign up for the service, make a promise, then designate a trusted friend as a referee. That referee’s job is to decide whether you’ve followed through on any goal(s) you’ve set. One of the most genius ways to force yourself to meet your goal is to pick an anti-charity–a charity you absolutely loathe to get, say $50 if you can’t keep your word. Say you’re a vegetarian who wants to spend less money eating at restaurants. You could set up your Stickk account to hold that $50 at arm’s length, just out of reach of a pro-meat program for raising and showing beef cattle (Note: Stickk doesn’t actually have an anti-charity that is pro-meat. We’ve totally made that up for illustrative purposes). If you don’t eat at home for 5 days in a row, you might as well walk a wide-eyed steer right up the gangplank into the slaughterhouse.
If you can’t find willpower through sheer hatred for some cause that goes against the beliefs at the very core of your being, you probably won’t find willpower at all.
6. Start a holiday savings plan for next year.
Even if that plan is “I’ll just be thoughtful, but cheap.” You have almost 11 months. You could learn to paint something, weld something, take a photo, knit something, put a binder together filled with things that remind you of the person you’re giving it to.
Here in Indianapolis, there’s a place called Trade School where you can go to learn how to do anything somebody else is willing to teach. All you have to do is be willing to barter class materials or help outside of the class with something the teacher needs. Learn to print your own t-shirt, make candles, doodle recognizable characters or bake a cake.
Or, you could learn the best times and places to buy in particular categories, then plan out when to buy those for the last year. Check out Clark Howard for tips on websites that extrapolate the best times of year to buy whatever it is you’re planning to give as a present.
7. Reevaluate your rent.
According to Pete the Planner, it should be no more than 25% of your take-home income. If you’re paying more (without spending less in other areas to make up for it), you’re much more likely to stay in a state of financial instability. You probably don’t need whatever perks you’re overpaying for as much as you need to be able to sleep at night.
8. Stop complaining about the ads.
How much could you save on streaming services every month if you just learned to put up with the advertisements? We all hate them, but ask yourself which you hate more — a pop-up window that’s trying to sell you some app with a themed slot machine, or eating Ramen with the lights off, trying to listen to the movie your neighbors could afford to get on Pay Per View?
Now, the second you feel comfortable with your finances, go back to paying premium. Before you get a nicer car, buy a house or take yourself to Aruba. Nobody should put up with that annoying garbage on the screen any longer than absolutely necessary.
9. Start reading Pete the Planner every chance you get.
Seriously. If you haven’t grabbed onto the idea that there is a right way to go about your financial life, get some advice from somebody who knows. Here are two of his books to get you started:
The information Pete has to share is going to make you happier in the long run, even if it means a little belt-tightening in the beginning.
10. Buy reasonably-priced sunglasses.
You could buy a pair of these polarized retro sunglasses for less than $20 and then eat a burrito a day for 24 straight days before you’d pay as much as you would for those well-known sunglasses they remind you of (that we can’t mention by name for legal reasons). See what else you could buy for the difference in price on this handy chart.