How to Recover from Debt December in Just 4 Weeks

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This just in: Americans added an average of $1230 in credit card debt to their household budgets after the holiday season. Is this you? Are you now looking at a post-Christmas credit card bill and wondering how you’ll pay it off?

You may (or may not) be able to pay off your entire debt in four weeks; this largely depends on how much you make and how much you’re willing to cut back.

You can, however, create a really strong debt pay off plan for meeting and achieving this goal in just four weeks (ideally…no later than by the end of March. You’ve still got next December to save for! With that in mind, here’s a quick-and-dirty guide for getting your “December debt” all settled over the next four weeks.

Week 1: Stop kicking yourself

You’re in debt, the holidays are over, and there is nothing you can do about it now. Instead of wasting your energy on fretting, take a week to assess the damage and then be proactive.

Your to-do list:

  • Throw your cards in the freezer. I like this because you’ll still have them in case of a DIRE emergency, but you also won’t have quick, available access to them when you want to make a purchase.
  • Look at your statements (paper or online), and tally up how much you’d owe if you stopped using credit today.
  • Take a look at your credit report online to see your actual credit score.
  • Look at your budget and determine how much you’ll be able to pay if you cut back to only living expenses. (Try a Financial Detox or “Dry January” challenge!)
  • Then take that number and determine how long it will take you to pay off your debt.

Week 2: This week is all about tightening the ol’ belt

Cutting back isn’t fun, and it isn’t sustainable. Keep this in mind as you’re carrying meals from home and skipping your daily latte. The good news is that it is only for the short term while you get your finances back on track, and it’s a great way to get creative with your spending habits.

Your to-do list:

  • Try a no spend challenge or a 90 day shopping ban.
  • Look at how much you spend on your bills. Call customer service for your providers and see if there are any promotions or if you can negotiate your bills to lower rates. This not only helps save money to pay off debt now but also creates more room in the budget for future-you to save up for next December.
  • Most obviously, meal plan and quit eating out until you pay off your debt. For many (myself included) this is both the BIGGEST discretionary expense and the easiest to get rid of.

Week 3: Investigate ways to lower interest

Your to-do list:

  • If it’s going to take longer than a month (or two) to pay off your debt, investigate options of how to lower the total interest rate you’ll pay over the next few months. 0% balance transfer offers or debt consolidation can be an option for those with decent credit.
  • Lowering your interest rate can help pay off debt faster and save money spent on interest in the process.

Week 4: Hustle your way to being debt free

The biggest way to pay off debt in just a matter of weeks is to earn more money.

Your to-do list:

  • Figure out how you can earn extra money to pay off debt. Can you drive for Uber? Sell old items on eBay or Poshmark? Babysit your friend’s kid?
  • Assess how you can earn more at your job. While this may not be a direct benefit to recovering from “Debt December” it’s never a bad time to think about increasing your overall income for the year. Plus, many annual employee reviews happen in the first quarter of the year.

A few final notes:

  1. Make paying off debt from December your primary goal for the first of the year. Let all other financial goals take a backseat for a few months (unless you’re getting a match from your employer for any 401k contributions!) The main thing we want is to pay off this debt ASAP so we can get back to our other goals.
  2. Remember this feeling for next Christmas. Do you really want to be paying off holiday debt into the Spring…every year? Consider creative ways to lower costs (or buy presents on sale throughout the year for loved ones) in order to save money – and preserve your financial health.