Leaves are falling, sweaters are out, and pumpkin spice – beloved or bemoaned – has made its seasonal appearance. And while the best parts of summer have become little more than memories, many Americans are still feeling the financial effects of the warmer months.
According to a LendEDU seasonal spending survey, summer, as it turns out, is the second most expensive season of the year, missing first place by a mere $85. During the warmer months, which often are filled with vacations, weddings, and other warm-weather festivities, poll participates reported spending, an average of $2,229.
As you may assume, winter takes first place, with poll participates spending an average of $2,314. Unfortunately, winter is also the season where most people tend to overspend. Another LendEDU survey found that the average respondent increased their credit card balance by nearly $1,000, a total they expect to pay for another ten months.
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With fall sandwiched between two of the most expensive seasons of the year, it becomes one of the most important seasons to tend to your finances. In doing so, you can pay down summer debt, set a budget for the last few months of the year, and maybe even save a little in the meantime. Just follow these two steps to get started.
Step #1 – Getting out of credit card debt
Before winter arrives, the first thing you should do it develop a plan to pay down your existing balance(s). This is particularly true if you’re planning on using those cards for holiday purchases in just a few weeks.
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Paying off your card is ideal, but if that’s not an option, here are a few ways you can lighten the load and protect yourself against growing interest.
- Pay more than the minimum
Your minimum balance can help you avoid penalties, but it won’t necessarily help you get out of debt faster. That’s especially true when you factor in interest. One way to speed up the process is by making payments for more than the minimum requirement.
You can do this by making one larger payment on or before your due date, but that’s not your only option. If your week to week budget is tight, consider making your regular minimum payment and then, as more disposable income becomes available, make extra payments over the month.
- Refinance with a personal loan
Personal loans, like credit cards, carry interest rates, but in many cases, the rates are lower. This is particularly true if you have good credit. Using a personal loan to refinance can help you shave off interest, but it can also help you consolidate your payments. Instead of trying to juggle multiple due dates, you can pay off all your credit cards with a personal loan and make a single payment each month. As of this writing and according to LendEDU, the interest rates on personal loans generally range from 4.99% to about 36%. You only want to use a personal loan for refinancing if the interest rate is lower than what you are currently paying on your credit card.
- Use a zero-interest balance transfer card
If you have good to excellent credit and your existing credit card debt is accruing interest, you may want to apply for a zero-interest balance transfer card. In this case, you can transfer existing credit card debt, up to your approved limit, to the interest-free credit card, thus saving you money in the long run.
Step #2 – Getting a budget together for the holidays.
One of the best things, you can do to prepare for holiday spending is to make a budget and stick to it. It also helps if you have a plan to spread spending out over a few weeks, as opposed to a mad dash in December.
Your budget should include everyday living expenses, like your housing, transportation, and groceries, as well as your holiday expenses, like gifts and travel.
Few of us love putting together a budget, but fortunately, several easy-to-use budgeting apps make the process much easier. Many of them even offer the option to sync with your accounts, making it even easier to keep track of spending.
Not sure which one to choose? Mint has been a long-time favorite and offers easy mobile budgeting; bill, payment, and balance alerts, and the ability to sync with almost every financial institution in the US.
If you’re prone to overspending, however, you may want to consider PocketGuard, which will let you know how much money you have left after all your bills and other budgetary concerns are factored in.
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Not going it alone? Many of the top budgeting apps are great for single users but aren’t always aligned for couples or households. If you want to budget with your partner or family member, consider Honeydue or Zeta.
Fall represents a nice break between two of the busiest and most expensive times of the year. That makes it the best time to get in touch with your finances. Review your summer spending, make a plan to reduce your debt, and prepare for the months ahead, because winter is indeed coming.