6 cures for a holiday debt hangover

cures for a hangover

The average American family planned to spend more than $1,100 over the holiday season and nearly two-thirds admitted that the total will include some "impulse" purchases. Unfortunately, roughly one in every three consumers say they regret overspending during the holidays, according to a survey by BMO Harris Bank.

If your January bills are likely to give you a serious headache, consider these six sure-fire cures to the debt hangover.

Do the pantry challenge: The average American family spends between $146 and $289 per week -- $584 to $1,156 per month -- just buying groceries. But that's not because the pantry is bare. A month of eating through your stockpile of food can not only save a fortune and help cut down on waste, it can help you reorganize your kitchen.

Blogger Jessica Fisher, who describes herself as a mom of six voracious eaters, says she does the pantry challenge twice a year and has found it makes her a better cook and a better shopper because it reminds her of the foods her family simply won't eat. Equally important for those with a debt hangover is that the pantry challenge can leave you a lot of extra money to pay off some of those credit card bills.

Cash in returns: If you're like a lot of holiday shoppers, you succumbed to the temptation to buy yourself a few gifts over the holidays, too. If you have a closet full of things that still have their store tags, take a second look at what you bought to determine whether you need it more than you need to pay back your debt. If you really do, budget elsewhere.

But if you realize you now have enough holiday dresses to last 67 years and a credit card bill that could haunt you almost as long, bring those "one for me" gifts back to the store for cash or a credit on your charge card.

Sell or exchange unused gift cards: They're one of the nation's most popular gifts, but American households have an average of $300 worth of

unused gift cards. Don't leave that money sitting in your sock drawer. Cash them in at a site like GiftCardGranny and use the money to pay down your debt.

Make one sacrifice: Everybody has some little luxury that you do often enough to make a dent in your budget, whether it's that daily trip to Starbucks, going out to lunch every work day or just going out to dinner and a movie every week. Don't give up your luxury completely, but until your debts are repaid, consider cutting back a bit.

Vow, for instance, to make your coffee at home (or pack a lunch) two days a week. Or bring one or two of those monthly date nights home. If you rent a movie and order a pizza instead of going out, you're likely to cut the evening's cost in half. Even modest changes can result in savings of $20 to $50 a month.

Refinance: Retail stores commonly provide substantial discounts to people who open new store charge cards. But these cards typically charge exorbitant interest rates that will cost you vastly more than the discount if you leave a balance on the card for any length of time.

You don't have to do that -- even if you don't have the money to repay the debt. A number of credit issuers will allow you to transfer a balance to a no-fee card for free. According to NerdWallet. the best card for this mission is the Chase Slate card. It doesn't provide any rewards, but initial balance transfers are free, and it has no interest for the first 15 months.

Moonlight: Today's economy provides nearly endless options for people who want to make a few extra bucks, whether it's driving for Uber or watching other people's animals by signing up for something like DogVacay. If budgeting appeals to you less than adding a few extra hours to your workday -- or renting out your guest room through Airbnb -- get yourself online and make like an entrepreneur.

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