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15% of Americans Are Still Paying Off Last Year's Holiday Debt

By Maurie Backman - Nov 22, 2018 at 6:04AM

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Here's how to avoid landing in a similar trap this season.

Though the holidays tend to be a magical time of year, they also tend to be an expensive one. It's no wonder, then, that the typical American racked up $1,054 in debt around this time last year.

But what's perhaps more disturbing is the fact that 15% of Americans are still in the process of paying off last year's holiday debt, according to data from YouGov, all the while grappling with the bills they'll inevitably face during the current season. If you want to avoid a scenario in which you're stuck with holiday debt a year after the fact, follow these tips for a more financially sound shopping season.

1. Cut as many corners as possible in your budget

The holiday season is hardly the time to uproot your life by moving to a less expensive apartment to save money on rent. But if you want to make sure that you're able to cover your holiday expenses this year, do your part to cut back on as many smaller living expenses as you can. For example, if you typically order takeout twice a week at $20 a pop, cooking similar meals at home might put $30 a week back in your pocket, or $120 over the course of a month. Similarly, packing lunch instead of buying it every day for $10 could help you bank $150 in a month's time.

Woman at a laptop looking distressed.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

You can also do things like lower your cable plan and avoid taking rideshares to keep your immediate expenses down. Remember, once you survive the holidays, you can feel free to revert to your old ways (provided they don't land you in debt for another reason), but for now, if money is tight and expenses abound, it pays to be frugal.

2. Shop wisely

It's hard to avoid overspending during the holidays when every other item you see in the store has a glowing sale tag attached to it. But if you give in too easily to impulse buys, you could wind up with an unmanageable tab and an unhealthy cycle of debt to follow it.

A better bet? Make a list of the things you need each time you head out to a store, and only bring enough cash to pay for those specific items. By leaving your debit and credit cards at home, you'll avoid the temptation to overspend.

Another thing it pays to do is research big-ticket items before going out and buying them. While you might wander into a store and see a so-called great deal on the purse you're planning to buy for your mom, if you spend some time digging around, you might find it for $50 less at another retailer. Therefore, while there's no need to spin your wheels on minor purchases, costlier ones deserve your full attention.

3. Get a side hustle

Having more money at your disposal during the holidays is a great way to avoid racking up debt. So even though you're probably busy making travel plans and party hopping, carve out some time to put in a few hours of side work each week on top of your regular job. The good news is that businesses tend to need extra help during the holidays, so if you're at a loss for a side hustle idea, popping into local retailers with your resume is a good way to land a gig.

The last thing you want to do this holiday season is accumulate so much debt that you're still paying it off in another year's time. If you take steps to lower your spending, shop shrewdly, and earn some side income, you'll reduce your chances of being snowed under.

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