Guest Post by Christian Gordun
The holiday hangover is not over yet – most of us still have a stack of holiday shopping bills piled up on our coffee tables or desks to deal with. In a recent post, we addressed one way people can rebound from the holidays and start anew this year, but just like any hangover, the ultimate cure involves more than just one simple trick.
Let’s take a look at some reasons why shoppers often end up with a massive debt headache and arm you with some simple but effective money-saving tips that will help you stick to your budget and avoid the infamous holiday shopping hangover.
During the holiday season, shoppers are often rushed to check off all the items on their list and will forgo some of the easiest ways to save money such as checking out competitive prices or using coupons. As they get caught up in the holiday buying frenzy, many are forced to make impulsive purchases while last-minute shopping at stores, instead of researching different options online. The holiday rush causes consumers to forget how much they are spending and rack up massive credit card debt, which has shoppers making New Year’s spending resolutions they know they’ll never keep.
Instead of making all those impossible resolutions, we’re going to let you all in on a little secret that will leave you debt-free after every holiday shopping season: you never have to pay full price for anything again! As a result of the recession, more retailers than ever are giving you the chance to save money via online coupon codes and deals. It’s simple, just follow these rules:
Coupon Craze is an online coupon code and deal site that will help you follow these coupon commandments. Like we said last time, if you’re hungover, you take aspirin, have a greasy breakfast, get hydrated and sometimes swear that you’ll never do that again! Treat a financial hangover the same way. Create a budget and then stick to it by using online coupons.
Are you ready to make online coupons a part of your shopping routine? Let us know!
Christian Gordun is the founder and CEO of Coupon Craze, a free consumer resource with online coupon codes and deals from over 10,000 retailers. He founded the company in 2000 as a hobby, and prior to taking it on fulltime, spent five years as a senior programmer and technical project manager. He received his master’s degree from London Business School in 2008.
Tackling the Little Things
Getting debt under control and improving savings habits are two big steps to a better financial life, but those actions only are possible if Americans have more specific aspects of their financial lives under control.
While the economy recovers, job stability remains a vast and very valid concern. Without income, saving stops and debt can spiral. Even if they still have a job, Americans need to assess their marketability and increase their professional value by networking and upgrading job skills.
If someone experiences a job loss, it’s important to be proactive. They should negotiate severance pay, file for unemployment benefits and look into alternative insurance plans, because living unprotected will risk their family’s security. Individuals who have lost their jobs also should immediately start looking for work. Most states allow people to work a certain number of hours, and earn up to half their previous income, and still retain unemployment benefits.
Those who are struggling financially also might find it difficult to pay their mortgage. If individuals have missed a payment, they should immediately search through financial records or identify spending habits to find out what caused the missed payment. They also should contact their lender, who is required to examine their client’s financial life before taking any drastic action against the client’s home.
Even without a job loss or mortgage trouble, it’s time for Americans to involve their entire family in assessing the household budget. Tracking spending for a month will reveal some easy places to cut back without causing any significant lifestyle changes. Turning off lights and appliances, cutting down on weekend trips and dinners out and eliminating habits such as smoking all will help reduce household spending. And, it will give the family a head start on saving in case of emergencies.
For Americans to recover, maintain or rebuild their financial lives after this recession, they need to make permanent changes so they’re prepared for any future trouble in the economy. Identifying areas in which they are struggling, scrutinizing bills and spending habits and prioritizing aspects of their financial lives will help individuals create a proactive financial plan to last the whole year, and beyond.
Next Up: Seven Resolutions
Changing the Way We Save
Although pre-recession Americans spent or consumed much of what they earned, the recession did provide a teachable moment.
In the 1980’s, Americans averaged saving 10 percent to 11 percent of their disposable income. By 2007 the Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that figure dropped to a low of 1.7 percent. Only in 2009, in the midst of a recession that had Americans worrying about their jobs and futures, did the savings rate increase, but only to 5 percent.
It’s a start, but that rate is still less than half of what it was a quarter century ago. And it’s leaving a majority of Americans unprepared for retirement and emergencies.
“Americans are significantly ‘under saved’ as they near their retirement years,” Neiser says. “They’ll need at least 50 percent to70 percent of their pre-retirement income to live comfortably in retirement, and most aren’t even close to having the financial cushion to do that.”
In 2009, only 13 percent of workers questioned in the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s (EBRI) annual Retirement Confidence Survey said they felt very confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement. That’s the lowest percentage since EBRI first asked the question in 1993 and a 50 percent decline in confidence since 2007.
The recession also taught us the need for having an emergency savings for our financial and psychological well-being. Having a cash nest egg can help consumers better weather the recession, and in the future, it will enable them to avoid accruing debt when unexpected expenses occur. According to the Consumer Federation of America, those with an emergency savings of more than $500 are less likely to worry, lose sleep, suffer poor health and decrease productivity at work than those who have saved less.
“It is the perfect time for individuals to take a hard look at their finances, spending a little less and saving more,” says Beck.
Up Next: Tackling the Little Things
This is a guest post from the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), a non-profit dedicated to improving the financial literacy of all Americans.
Control spending: If you spend less you'll have more money available to pay down debt and save for the future. Write down your expenses for a month to see where your money is going. You might be surprised by how easy it is to find places to scale back.
Create a debt repayment plan: If you carry credit card debt, write down everything you owe and make a plan to pay it off. Start with small items you can act on right away–it will make tackling the bigger debt easier. Also, try buying with cash only. It’s a sure-fire way to prevent increases in your credit card debt.
Set up auto-savings plans: Arrange with your bank or another financial institution to have a set amount deducted from your checking account to a savings account each pay period. Of the Americans who have been able to contribute to emergency savings funds, automatic withdrawal is the most popular method, according to the Consumer Federation of America.
Boost retirement savings: If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, increase your contributions. If you don't have an employer plan, open an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and arrange for contributions to be made automatically from your checking or savings account.
Create a long-term plan: Write a list of your long-term goals, such as buying a home or saving for college or retirement. Visit the Life Events section of Smart About Money for concrete tips on accomplishing those goals.
Protect Yourself: Be prepared for the unexpected by making sure you, your family, your assets and investments are insured and fully covered. If you do not have a will, make 2010 the year you establish a life plan.
Find a financial buddy: Share your financial resolutions with a friend, colleague, or family member, and you’ll be more likely to keep them. Find someone else who wants to turn around their debt or cut their spending, and establish a mutual support system.
NEFE operates the site Smart About Money and have developed a series of articles filled with tips to help you make 2010 the year of financial freedom. You can also find Economic Survival Tips, worksheets and articles focused on financial education related to housing, spending, credit and job change. Follow NEFE on Twitter at @nefe_org.