How to recover after big holiday spending

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How much did you plan on spending this holiday season—and how much did you actually spend? The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts that 2021 will turn out to be the highest holiday spending season on record, with sales between November and December totaling as much as $859 billion. Individual consumers plan to spend nearly $1,000 on gifts and other holiday expenses.

With many Americans spending more than ever (and with the threat of supply-chain issues prompting impulse buys and rapid checkouts), you may end this holiday season with more credit card debt than you’d bargained for. How can you get back on track and set yourself up for a fresh financial start in the New Year? Is it possible to make a post-holiday financial recovery?

Even if you spent much more than you planned this holiday season, it’s still possible to get your finances to the point where 2022 feels like a fresh financial start. We asked nationally-recognized consumer finance expert Andrea Woroch to share her best tips for tackling post-holiday spending and overcoming holiday debt. Here’s her advice on how to recover from the expenses of the holidays by focusing on spending less, earning more and putting your savings to good use.

Start with a no-spend month

“The best way to reset your budget after the busy and expensive holiday season is to detoxify your spending with a no-spend month,” Woroch explains. “During this time, commit to not buying anything outside your necessities.” Your necessities are likely to include groceries, housing, transportation, healthcare and monthly bills—and exclude expenses like takeout, movie downloads, new clothes and app purchases.

A no-spend month is one of the best ways to save money fast. Committing to a few weeks of as few purchases as possible can be an excellent way to put extra cash towards a credit card bill or boost an emergency fund.

Some people may even be able to make it through a no-spend month without spending anything—although most of us will have to make some kind of financial transaction, even if it’s as simple as stocking up on milk, eggs or toilet paper.

“Since there are things you will have to buy no matter what, like groceries and cleaning supplies, try to shop savvy and stretch your dollars by looking for coupons and comparing prices. Woroch recommends using money-saving apps to lower the cost of everyday purchases.

Cut unnecessary expenses from your budget

A no-spend month is also an excellent way to determine which discretionary expenses can be reduced or eliminated from your budget long-term. “Flush the waste out of your budget,” advises Woroch, noting that a lot of people can save money simply by looking at their credit card statements and asking themselves which expenses are no longer necessary.

  • Trim down your takeout or grocery bill. After a month of at-home cooking, for example, you might decide to lower your takeout budget permanently. Use our list of money-saving supermarket tactics to reduce your food budget even further—and consider applying for one of the best credit cards for groceries to earn cash back or rewards on your food shopping.
  • Cut underused subscriptions. You might also want to consider cutting back on subscriptions, especially if your budget is currently clogged with payments to media services and app companies. Don’t want to give up your favorite shows? Consider a credit card that offers rewards on streaming services, so you can earn cash back every time you make a monthly payment.
  • Negotiate monthly bills. Cut back on your monthly expenses by negotiating your bill payments. “Try negotiating with cable, internet and other monthly service providers, especially if you find a better competitor rate.”
  • Shop around. “If you haven’t compared your auto insurance in a few years, run a quick search on insurance marketplaces,” Woroch suggests. By learning what other options are available, you’ll be able to assess whether you’re paying too much—and whether it’s time to switch to something more affordable.

Earn extra cash fast

Once you’ve adjusted your budget and started saving money, you can switch your focus to earning more money—through apps, side hustles and other services you can manage from home.

“Replenish savings and pay down any debt faster by boosting your cash flow,” Woroch advises. Whether you start your own small business or pick up a side hustle, money-making opportunities are out there.

“There are simple ways you can make a little extra money right from home and in your spare time.” Surveys and focus groups, for example, are great ways to earn extra cash—in fact, Woroch recently earned a $150 gift card by participating in a focus group about travel. If you want to improve your cash flow with surveys and focus groups, start with our list of the best survey sites to earn money.

Transfer your credit card balances

What’s the last step you can take to get your finances back on track? Consolidate any outstanding credit card debt onto a balance transfer credit card.

“If you’re carrying holiday debt across multiple accounts, you can consolidate those balances and save on interest by getting a 0 percent intro APR balance transfer card,” says Woroch.

Balance transfers are one of the best ways to eliminate holiday debt, with the best balance transfer credit cards giving you between 12 and 21 months of zero interest on balance transfers. “You can pay down your balances without any of your payments wasted on interest,” Woroch explains.

The bottom line

Your post-holiday financial recovery works best when you combine money-saving tools with other good financial practices, such as earning extra income and consolidating old debt. Consider a no-spend month to help you recalibrate your spending habits and save cash quickly. Take the breather from spending to reevaluate your expenses to see if there’s anything you can cut and consider amplifying your income with a side hustle or new venture. While you get your finances into shape, you might benefit from a balance transfer credit card so you can consolidate outstanding debt and pay it off without added interest for a limited time.