Holiday Expenses: Top Ways to Avoid Debt this Season

The holiday season is supposed to be about joy, but for many people it brings a great deal of stress. In addition to organizing and attending multiple holiday events, traveling and hosting visitors, you have to watch your budget. Otherwise, you end up with that January hangover when the bills come in.

Fortunately, you can enjoy all the season has to offer while minimizing stress about your holiday expenses. The key is to make a plan and stick with it. Try to follow some general tips as a family, so everyone is on the same page when it comes to spending money.



1. Estimate Non-Gift Holiday Expenses

Holidays typically mean decorations and food, but also higher expenses you might not think to put in your seasonal budget. Electricity and heating is more expensive because of outdoor lights, home decor and cooking. You may also give to charity at this time of year. Review your expenses from last year to help you estimate how much the holidays typically cost.

2. Identify Gift Recipients

It’s neighborly to give small gifts to almost everyone in your circle, from your child’s piano teacher to the kindly woman who lives across the street. Make a complete list of everyone you plan to remember this year. Even if a gift is only $10, when multiplied by 10 people, that’s $100–plus interest if you slap it on a credit card and don’t pay it off right away.

3. Start Saving Early

Ideally, put aside a few dollars every month throughout the year to build a fund for holiday expenses. But life isn’t ideal, so you may only start saving when the weather begins to get colder. As soon as you turn your mind to the season, start to put money away. If you anticipate coming up short, consider taking a seasonal job or revising your original holiday expenses. You still have time to make changes.

4. Start Buying Early

Check out sales as they happen throughout the year. If there’s a sale on food you’ll eat during Thanksgiving and your holiday meals, double up and put the excess in your pantry or freezer until December. If you see the perfect gift for someone on your list, buy it when it’s on sale, even if it’s several weeks before the big day. Just remember to cross that individual off your budget!

5. Research Pricing

Look online and compare retailers for those few special items. Often flash sales and internet-only deals can get you a break on in-demand items, although you may have to buy early before they sell out.

6. Budget for the Unexpected Holiday Expenses

Set aside a bit of cash for a last-minute invitation or unexpected guest. That way you can get a hostess gift or add a plate for dinner without breaking the budget. Better yet, if you never use the money from this seasonal emergency fund, you can put it toward another priority in January.

7. Use Credit Sensibly

When you’re trying to budget, credit cards are not the enemy as long as you use them sensibly. Your credit card may offer cash back or valuable rewards points. If you want to use credit for this reason, consider using the card and immediately transferring the amount of the charge out of your bank account and onto the card.

As with any debt, awareness is crucial. If you put money on a card, write it down and post it on a bulletin board at home so you don’t forget. The more you are conscious about what you’re putting on credit, the more control you have.

Enjoy the holidays the way they are supposed to be: with friends, family and good food. In terms of your holiday expenses, all it takes is a little planning and strength to stick to the budget over the season.

Retirement: Save a Million Dollars Right Now


Retiring as a millionaire may be easier than you think. With the power of compounding interest, you can become a millionaire by putting aside just a few extra dollars each month.

How Much Do You Need to Save for Retirement?

Here’s how much you need to save each month and how long it will take to reach a million dollars if you invest in an S&P 500 index fund. These numbers assume the index matches its historical ten percent per year rate of return.

  • $100 per month = 45 years
  • $250 per month = 36 years
  • $500 per month = 29 years
  • $1,000 per month = 23 years
  • $2,000 per month = 17 years

The lesson learned? Anyone can become a millionaire by setting aside only a small amount of money each month over their working life. If you got a late start or want to retire early, you can still get there with smart budgeting.

Where to Save

Warren Buffet recommends S&P 500 funds because they let you own 500 of the strongest companies in the United States at a low cost. Other investors prefer to use total stock market index funds that own every stock on the stock market or to put some of their money into an international index fund to add diversification.

You may also want to consider a target-date fund which gives you a mix of U.S. stocks, international stocks and bonds and automatically lowers your risk as you get closer to retirement. No matter what you choose, how much and how early you save will be the biggest driver of your success.

How to Find the Money

It can be hard thinking about the future when money is tight, but small adjustments add up. Instead of buying things because they’re only $X per month, remember that only $X per month will make you a millionaire.

Simple steps like packing a brown bag lunch and skipping a barista-made coffee can save $10 to $20 per day. If you have credit card debt, paying it off sooner or consolidating it at a lower interest rate can turn money wasted on interest into retirement savings.

The most important thing to do is to start right now. Remember, the sooner you start, the easier it will be to become a millionaire.



5 Ways to Pay Off Credit Card Debt

Pay Off Credit Card Debt

Paying down credit card debt is one of the best methods for repairing credit and improving your credit score. Here are easy and painless ways you can pay off your credit card debt:

1. Pay More Than the Minimum

With most minimum payments, it can take years to pay off credit card debt. Paying the minimum will not only hurt your credit score, but it will cost you a ton of money in interest. If you can afford it, you should pay more than the minimum.

If you can’t afford to pay more than the minimum, keep in mind that as you pay the principal down, your minimum payment will go down as well. However, you should keep paying the same amount you were paying before in order to pay down your debt faster. Eventually, you will be able to pay more than the minimum and repair your credit.

2. Find Extra Money

If you can’t afford to pay more than the minimum payments, try and find extra money. You don’t have to get a second job to pay down debt. For example, if your minimum payment is $40, be conscious of the fact that only $40 more per month will double your payment. You may have extra money in your budget or you may be able to earn cash. Here are some tips:

  • Fill out surveys
  • Use apps like Ibotta to get cash back from shopping
  • Use coupons
  • Try a no-spend challenge
  • Reduce your spending by just $10 per week

3. Use the Snowball Method

For multiple credit cards, the best and simplest way to pay them off is to use the snowball method. With this strategy, you pay off the card with the lowest balance first. Then, you put the money you were using for that card toward the card with the next lowest balance, and so on. Here’s a step-by-step example:

  1. You have three cards. One has a balance of $300, the 2nd a balance of $1,000, and the 3rd has a balance of $1,500. You’re paying the minimum payments on all three, but you have an extra $50 you can use toward the debt.
  2. Take the extra $50 per month and apply it toward the 1st card; then, pay minimums on the others until they are paid off.
  3. Take the extra $50, the 1st card’s minimum and the 2nd card’s minimum, and apply to the 2nd card until it’s paid off. Continue paying the minimum on the 3rd card.
  4. Apply the $50, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd card’s minimum to the 3rd card until it’s paid off.

You will be debt-free relatively quickly without having to put a lot of money toward your credit cards.

4. Make the Most of Unexpected Cash

The fastest way to repair credit and pay off debt is to pretend extra money doesn’t exist. If you get a raise, bonus, overtime payment or cash gift at work, apply it toward your credit cards. You should budget as if overtime or bonuses don’t exist. That way, when you get the money you can use it to pay off debt or build savings.

5. Pay Twice

Some credit cards calculate interest based on average daily balance. If your credit card is one of them, remember that the easiest way to pay off the balance is to pay twice per month. Before you panic, you don’t need to pay twice the minimum payment each month. Instead, take your payment and divide by half. Pay that amount every two weeks. This will reduce your average daily balance, which will reduce your interest so you can pay off debt faster.

You can repair your credit score and pay off debt by following these strategies. Credit card debt may seem daunting, but you can unbury yourself and improve your credit.