Investment strategy

Tips to Help Pay Off Those Holiday Bills Before They Pile Up

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With the holiday season comes a lot of gift-giving — and plenty of bills.

That's why it's good to have a strategy now for how to tackle any debt you may incur, experts advise.

"You actually can create a plan as opposed to just figuring it out on the fly, which often does not lead to the most optimal results," said Abbey Henderson, CEO of Concord, Massachusetts-based Abaris Financial Group.

Nearly 1 in 3 Americans plan to take on debt this season, according to a survey by Credit Karma. Yet not paying credit card bills off on time can be expensive: The average interest rate is 16%, according to Bankrate.

Here's what you can do now so that you don't stress out about looming debt.

Take inventory

Make a list of those you are buying for and how much you want to spend. Write down anything you have already bought, along with what it cost.

"You may want to adjust after seeing that number," said Jamila Souffrant, creator of financial education podcast "Journey To Launch."

"That's why you shouldn't wait until after you are done shopping."

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If you are behind on your shopping, get moving.

"If you wait until the very last minute to buy your gifts, you could end up spending a huge chunk of cash at once, which can be stressful, expensive and more difficult to bounce back from than if you spread your spending out over several months," said Colleen McCreary, consumer financial advocate and chief people officer at Credit Karma.

Consider shopping locally to cut down on expensive last-minute shipping costs or consider more meaningful gifts that may not be expensive. Avoid gift cards since there is more pressure to put a certain dollar amount on them, Henderson noted.

Use cards wisely

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Be aware of which credit cards you are using and when the due dates are for the purchase you are making, Souffrant suggested.

To keep things simple, consider using just one card. If you use multiple cards, however, you may spread out the payments if they have different due dates. The key is to be aware of what you are spending and when the bills are due.

Ideally, you'll want to pay off the balance in full so you don't rack up debt.

Cash in rewards

If you already have credit cards that offer rewards, like points towards shopping or cash back, consider using them towards gifts instead of cash or credit.

You can also look to save money by using apps or browser extensions that have coupons and rewards for shopping, such as Honey or Rakuten, Souffrant said.

Assess your 2022 budget

If you don't have a budget for next year, create one. Take a look and see how your expenses will flow throughout the year, Henderson said. From there, see what you may be able to shift a few months down the road, if you don't have enough money to pay off your holiday debt. There even may be expenses you can cut, like multiple streaming services, if needed.

"See how you can create space to pay off some of these bills that you haven't saved cash for to begin with," she said.

You can also work saving for next holiday season into your 2022 budget saving so you don't have the stress of bills again.

Prioritize your payments

If you wind up with debt, prioritize aggressively paying down the highest interest card first, said Henderson.

If the debt is overwhelming, consider consolidating it through a balance transfer card with a zero or low interest rate.

"If you think you can pay off your debt during the introductory period, you could save a good amount of money on interest," McCreary said.

You may consolidate your debt through a personal loan, which typically has lower interest than credit cards, she added.

If you decide to consolidate, just make sure have a plan to pay it off and don't continue to rack up more debt.

Don't beat yourself up

Do your best not to overspend, but if you do, don't be too hard on yourself.

"The holidays are an overwhelming time, and given it's been a hard year, you may have gotten carried away with your spending," McCreary said.

"Just consider it a learning experience, and redirect your time and energy into creating a plan that will help you get your finances back on track moving forward."

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