After months of anticipation, Christmas day is finally here. And depending on your outlook, that could be a great (or an awful) thing. Just a few short years ago, I was a total Scrooge about the holidays in general, with a special hostility toward anything I perceived as forced gift-giving or wasteful spending. And while I still struggle with those notions to a certain extent, my perspective of the holidays has changed dramatically since I became a mother. Now it's no longer about “forced gift-giving.” It's about generosity. It's about innocence. It's about the sense of wonder in their eyes when they wake to find their presents on Christmas morning. There's simply nothing like it.
But like all good things, it must come to an end. And as the holiday season makes its exit once again, it often leaves consequences in its wake. Whether it's a few pounds, a few new bills, or a whole wave of toys or gifts that now need a place in your home, nearly everyone has something to take care of once the holidays are over.
Since I'm action-oriented, I took the time to compile an action plan full of activities that may help you recover from holiday overload, or make things easier next year. Call it an after-Christmas-to-do list if you will, because everyone loves to-do lists, right?
Face the music
You shopped. You conquered. You survived. And according to a recent Gallup poll, you probably spent a pretty penny. The numbers are startling: Households with an income of $75,000 or higher planned to spend an average of $1,035 on gifts this year. Those making $30,000 to $74,999 expected to spend $631. Nationally, consumers planned to spend around $704.
If you just so happened to put some (or all) of your Christmas shopping on credit, you're probably wondering where to go from here. And this is where people usually pipe up in praise of the debt snowball, and for good reason. J.D espoused the virtues of the debt snowball several years ago, and the steps he suggested then are still relevant today. According to J.D., the debt snowball approach is:
- Order your debts from lowest balance to highest balance.
- Designate a certain amount of money to pay toward debts each month.
- Pay the minimum payment on all debts except the one with the lowest balance.
- Throw every other penny at the debt with the lowest balance.
- When that debt is gone, do not alter the monthly amount used to pay debts, but throw all you can at the debt with the next-lowest balance.
Perform a post-Christmas credit analysis
Even if you spent more than you planned, it's not too late to do some damage control. According to Better Money Habits, a collaborative effort between Bank of America and the Khan Academy, there are a number of things individuals can do to help themselves become debt-free for good, including a few tips for after the holidays:
- Check your credit score. You need to know what's there, for better or for worse. You also need to be aware of any fraudulent activity on your report because thieves shop too. You can check your report for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Don't necessarily close your cards. If you opened any new credit card accounts over the holidays, it may not be wise to rush to close them, at least not at first. According to Better Money Habits, closing your cards could negatively impact your debt-to-limit ratio, as well as your credit.
Get rid of stuff
Ever since we had kids, we've adopted a rule in regards to what comes in, and what stays in, our home. Basically it's this: When something arrives, something else must leave. Up until last year, I took the initiative to decide this on my own. But now that my kids are getting older, I've started letting them decide to a certain extent. And it's been fairly easy. Since they've always lived with this rule, they're generally pretty happy to comply.
The “item in=item out” rule also applies to my husband and me too. And I like to think we're pretty good about it, maybe even too good since my husband jokes that we barely have anything left. So, what are the best things to get rid of? A few suggestions:
- Toys your kids no longer play with
- Toys your kids have outgrown
- Clothes your kids have outgrown
- Items you no longer use
- Stuff you're sick of looking at
As far as I'm concerned, any item or piece of clothing that sits unused for a year is fair game for Goodwill or another charitable organization. Hell, if you live in most areas, the Salvation Army will actually pick up your donation at your home. No excuses, folks. No excuses.
Stock up and save
After a hectic holiday season, shopping is probably the last thing in the world you want to do. However, there are plenty of deals out there if you're willing to look. A few suggestions:
- Check Craigslist and eBay. Why? Because people sell their unwanted gifts. I know this because I am 100 percent guilty of the very same thing. And even though there's plenty of junk out there, there are also plenty of items that you actually need. Some examples might include clothing, household items, or items for school or work.
- Search for discounted gift cards. Unwanted gift cards often end up at gift card resale sites like giftcardgranny.com or giftcardrescue.com after the holidays, creating the perfect opportunity for those who love to save at a particular store. Used gift cards are available for virtually any store that offers gift cards in the first place, including your local drug store, your favorite clothing store, and restaurants that you may frequent regularly.
- Search for anything Christmas. After Christmas is the perfect time to stock up on any item with a holiday theme, reports MSN Money. Some of the best deals can be found on items like holiday-themed table settings and dishes, home décor, bath sets, blankets, and candles. You can also buy gift wrap, bows, and holiday bags for pennies on the dollar in the weeks after Christmas, usually because retailers want to get rid of surplus inventory as quickly as they can. It's also a great time to buy an artificial Christmas tree if you're so inclined. We actually bought our artificial tree at Target right after Christmas eight years ago. And for the $10 we spent, we've certainly gotten our money's worth so far.
If you're reading this, you've survived Christmas. Well, at least part of it. Make it a good one, folks, and worry about that to-do list tomorrow. Because trust me, it's not going anywhere.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
What's on your after-Christmas checklist? When do you take your decorations down?
Author: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson is a credit card expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar and writing for publications such as Bankrate, U.S. News and World Report Travel, and Travel Pulse, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.