The pre-Christmas period is the peak time of the year for retail sales, and many department and other stores depend on a successful Christmas for their annual profits. There is another side to that coin: the same period is also the peak time for consumer spending. A surge in consumer spending often means a jump in borrowing to support that spending in the stores.
Even people who might normally be very careful with their finances, may feel some pressure to overspend at and before Christmas. A combination of peer pressure, the desire to please the children and other members of the family, and the sheer desire to have a great Christmas, may tip the normally frugal into being a bit careless with their spending.
An excess of borrowing can mean later problems for those consumers who really do let their finances get out of hand, and every year tens of thousands of people do. For many, the spectre of debt hangs over their Christmas festivities and spoils the party even before they have sat down and fully assessed the damage caused by the pre-Christmas excesses.
Between Christmas and New Year is a good time for home budgeting, looking ahead to the next year and plotting the best route to make it a happy year. When it comes to your finances, and debt in particular, then the last week of the year is a particularly opportunity to plan, and set a home budget.
How To Budget For The Year Ahead
What you have spent over Christmas, whether on credit or out of savings, is a matter of fact. What you already had in outstanding credit and overdue credit, is also a matter of fact. It is important to treat those facts as such, and keep a detached view as you write down your current financial situation. It is all to easy for personal finances to become overbearing because of emotional pressure you may place on yourself.
When planning your budget, start by making a list of all your outstanding debts, who they are owed to, and how much you need to budget each month to keep up with the payments. Always remember that if you fall behind with payments, your financial situation will deteriorate, as costs, penalties and interest charges mount up. As you list your monthly credit payments, use them as the starting point for your monthly outgoings. It is also worthwhile keeping the list of actual amounts owing at the start of the year, and then see if that figure can be reduced by the end of the year. That way you can monitor progress, just as a business would. You want to see your net assets going up, not down, at the end of your budget period.
Next, list out your unavoidable and essential monthly payments in order of importance, with any state and local government payments, such as taxes, at the top. Then will come your mortgage or rent, and other necessities such as electricity, telephone, gas, food and household expenses.
At this stage, work out a sub-total of all the above items, which will be your priority monthly payments. Now is a good time to compare the total you already have with your net monthly income. If they are in balance, then you can make your payments each month, but not have any flexibility or cash for non-essentials and luxuries.
Hopefully, though, you will have a surplus each month which you can use for desirables and for savings to set aside for any unexpected expenses.
You can then add to your monthly budget by listing those desirables you want to spend money on and how much. You should also aim to build in savings to your budget. Bear in mind all the time that if you spend on consumables, your personal assets go down. If you save, they go up.
If your spending has really gone over the top of your capabilities to repay on time, then you need to use the budget plan you have come up with as a starting point for seeking debt counseling, or for consolidating some or all of your debts. The important thing, though, whatever the outcome of your home budget exercise, is to keep calm and detached. Discuss with your partner and family all the steps you need to take to get your home finances in order after an extravagant Christmas, and then do your best to carry through your budget plan, preferably setting aside savings along the way to prepare for an interest free Christmas the following year.