Getting back on track after holiday spending

Shopping smart tips from the Federal Trade Commission. / From file

It’s a new year, which is a good time to get on the right track financially.

But that can be hard after spending so much during the holidays.

January can be considered the hardest month financially, with bills around the corner after the holiday shopping.

Financial professional Mark Goldstein from SAFE-Money Alliance has four ways you may not have thought of to stretch your budget in the new year.

Don’t Forget Gift Cards

• Did you get a gift card this year? It’s already paid for, so make sure it doesn’t go to waste. Every year, about $1 billion worth of gift cards go unused.

• Even if you got a gift card to a store you don’t shop at, you can re-gift it or use it to buy someone else a gift to avoid adding to your debt.

• Sell any unwanted gift cards by going to a gift card exchange website. Do your research ahead of time, because most of the time you do not get the full value of your card in return.

• Some retailers including (Walmart and Target) will allow you to use gift cards from competing stores or let you trade them in, although you might not get the full value.

Redeem Rewards

• One good thing about using those credit cards to buy your holiday gifts is the rewards you hopefully earned.

• Some cards offer cash back for everything you spend. You can even earn air travel miles that you can use for your next trip.

• You can also use your credit cards to help pay off debt by finding a good cash rewards card and using it to pay for everything you can like groceries, utilities or gas.

• When you find out the amount of your cash reward, put that money straight into a savings account. It’s extra cash you will never miss.

"Your rewards, any amount, they don't expire as long as you keep your account open,” Goldstein said. “They last forever, so you can use those rewards, you can use that cash to start saving."

Make Returns

• There’s usually at least one present we open each year that we don’t want, yet only one-third of people make returns after the holiday season.

• Don’t be shy about returning gifts because you think it’s too much of a hassle or you don’t want to offend the gift-giver.

• They will more than likely appreciate you using the money or store credit for something you will actually like and use.

Start Saving

• Learn your lesson and start preparing for next year!

• Consider buying some gifts early. You can save money by shopping end of season sales, especially when it comes to winter clothing.

• You can use a Holiday Budget Worksheet on my website to help plan out your spending for next year.

• Look at how much money you spent this year and then plan to set aside some money every month to help prepare for the next year’s holiday spending.

"Get an idea of what you're going to need and break it down per day, and you know how much you have to put away,” Goldstein said. “And if you have a surplus put it away in savings, you don't have to spend everything."

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