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CCOA offers tips to conquer post-holiday bills

By: 20 January 2011 2 Comments

Ideally, the holiday season produces smiles and good cheer.But a few weeks after the year-end celebrations, smiles can turn to frowns with the arrival of credit card bills. Cold reality is typical of winter, especially if a consumer’s holiday spending went a little overboard.

Credit Counseling of Arkansas (CCOA) is a local nonprofit organization that provides free financial literacy counseling, education and services. For people who find themselves confronted with post-holiday debt, the agency recommends:

* Don’t fret! This is easier said than done, of course, but stress and self-doubt don’t enhance the situation. Take a deep breath, then vow to make a financial resolution you’ll keep.

* Assess the situation. If you don’t have a budget, this is a good time to develop one. This is usually a two-part process:

— First, make a list of all regular monthly family income sources.

— Then – and this is harder – list all financial obligations: savings, rent, car payments, utilities and phone/Internet, food, etc. Make sure to count everything, even small purchases such as vending machine buys.

* Analyze the results. A separate tally of the previous two lists will yield a total income and debt obligation, and the difference in those two will represent either a monthly surplus or deficit.

* If the number is a surplus, that’s a good start. Without neglecting your emergency fund, put as much of the surplus as possible toward paying down the debt. For those with interest-carrying debt, consider paying more on the debt with the highest interest rate. Most lenders ask for a minimum payment of 2 percent of the balance. Try to pay much more than the minimum – at least 5 percent is recommended.

* If the difference is a deficit, bolder action is required. Shift into an emergency spending mode and cut all optional spending immediately. Some reliable money-saving tactics when going into “belt-tightening” mode include:

— Sharply reducing restaurant expenses for an indefinite period. For a family of four, this can save $15-$20 per visit to a fast-food stop, or $25-$50 and more for a “sit-down” meal. The savings could be several hundred dollars in a short period of time.

— Cutting back on entertainment expenses. This could mean no sporting events or movies for a while, reducing cable TV channel subscriptions or even scrapping cable entirely. Public libraries have free memberships to residents and besides great books often have a wide selection of movies and music to borrow.

* Get help. For more money-saving tips, visit the CCOA Web site at www.CCOAcares.com. Or call CCOA at 479-521-8877 to schedule a free, one-hour financial review and budgeting session.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

2 Comments »

  • Lana F. Flowers said:

    Also, spend cash only at Christmas. My family learned a long time ago that we enjoy the holiday gifts a lot more if we know we are not paying for them clear through the following December. We’d rather get fewer and less expensive Christmas gifts, paid with cash, and have more cash each month after Christmas to see local baseball games, go to movies, get a dinner or two at a restaurant and take advantage of mall sales.

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