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Phoenix Forward magazine

Post-holiday money-management tips

Money management

You’ve eaten all the holiday treats, taken down the seasonal decorations, and now it’s time to confront those post-holiday bills and bank statements.

But debt doesn’t have to be part of every holiday season, according to Keith Bong, a chartered financial analyst and an online instructor in the University of Phoenix finance program. Here, he suggests five tips that can help you get back on track and prepare for the next holiday season:

Meet with a financial planner.

“It’s always a good idea to seek professional advice, especially when you feel you don’t have the aptitude or the time to explore your own financial issues,” Bong says.

He recommends consulting the nonprofit Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) in your area. “A CCCS counselor will give you guidance and help you see where your spending problems lie based on your expenses, your income and your current debt,” Bong says. “That may keep you from getting into the same bind next holiday season.”

Worry now, not later.

It’s better to keep an eye on your holiday spending while you’re doing it than to panic later when the big bills start pouring in, Bong advises. “Tracking your spending is really at the heart of financial planning,” he notes. “Set a budget limit for each person you’re shopping for and don’t exceed it,” and continue the practice in subsequent years.

Keep a record of your progress.

Account for your holiday debt spend-down in a journal by noting the amount every time you contribute toward paying off a bill. Make a goal of paying half of your balance by June, for example, or plan to contribute a certain amount to the debt each month, Bong suggests. Reward or treat yourself for your spend-down success — with something other than shopping, of course.

Save toward holiday spending.

One way to help you get ahead of the game, Bong says, is to sock away a few dollars every week or two in a holiday fund, and then spend only what you have accrued when it’s time for gift shopping.

“If you can, take a look at what you spent this year on gifts for friends and family,” he says. “Use that figure as your goal and save toward that, starting right after the holiday.”

Don’t cheer yourself up through shopping.

The shock of seeing their post-holiday credit card bills sends some people straight to the mall for retail therapy. But that only makes their financial situations worse, Bong says. “Charging more stuff only means it will take you longer to pay off your debt,” he points out.

He cautions not to further compound the problem by “saving money” on post-holiday clearance sales or by spending a little extra because you’re “saving” by using the gift cards you received for Christmas.

“Hold onto those gift certificates until you’ve started to pay off your debt, if you can,” Bong suggests. Better yet, he says, give them as gifts next season, and you’ll be ahead of the holiday spending game.