If you're dreading opening the post-holiday shopping bills this month, or if you have long-term credit card debt, take heart. There are many ways to tackle the issue. And the earlier you start, the better.
“You have to recognize that if your budget is out of whack, if you are spending more than you are earning, you will crash,” says Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America. “It's just a matter of when.”
The first step, according to Sullivan, is to track your spending habits. For example, check out Take Charge America's How Much Am I Spending? calculator.
Once you have an idea of how serious the issue is, you can determine how drastic you need to be in dealing with it. If it's a minor problem, check out the following relatively painless ways to free up money to pay down that credit card debt. If that doesn't do the trick, you may want to swallow hard and tackle some of the more painful ways to get that credit card debt under control.
5 painless ways to zap credit card debt
1. Reconsider monthly subscriptions. Many people are being robbed by recurring credit card charges for services they don't really need, but which they have forgotten to cancel.
Do you have magazines lying around the house that you never find the time to read? Book club subscriptions you don't need? Online subscriptions you signed up for months ago and rarely use? Cancelling monthly subscriptions can easily free up $50 to $100 a month, or more.
2. Cancel health club memberships. Consider canceling that health club or gym membership until you're back on track financially. To keep yourself fit while you're fighting debt, buy a couple of exercise DVDs to keep you going.
3. Eat what you have. Americans waste as much as 40 percent of their food, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Vegetables go bad, dairy products expire, and that loaf of bread stuck in the back of the fridge turns a rather unappetizing green.
Make a habit of going through your kitchen cabinets regularly to make a list of the items you have, and then plan your meals around them. Buy perishables as needed, but cut back all other grocery shopping to once a month to force yourself to use what you have. The less you shop, the less you spend.
4. Take advantage of internet deals. There are a lot of ways to waste money on the Internet, but many sites offer unique ways to save money.
- Amazon's Subscribe & Save program lets you save 20 percent or more on grocery items you purchase regularly.
- Sites like 39DollarGlasses.com, EyeBuyDirect.com or Optical4Less.com will let you purchase prescription glasses starting at $7.
- Buy prescription medication or vitamin supplements through sites like Bidformedicine.com or BidRx.com. These sites use a reverse bidding process — you post your requirements and pharmacies bid for your business.
5. Cut your utility bills. Saving on utilities can free up a surprising amount of money to help pay down your debt. The simple act of turning off lights and other electrical devices when they're not in use can add up to significant savings. Many electronic devices, like TVs, DVD players, printers and modems, burn up electricity even when they are in stand-by mode. Instead of simply turning them off, unplug them from the outlet when they're not in use.
Other ways to cut your utility bills include turning the temperature of your hot water heater down, taking shorter showers and installing a programmable thermostat to regulate the heating in your house.
“Once you get started, you will find more and more ideas,” Sullivan says. “By simply changing habits and behaviors, you can take care of smaller shortfalls of $50 to $150 a month.”