With the hustle and bustle of the holidays at a close, I remember what it was like to play with the new toys from Christmas long after ringing in the New Year. It was the time of marbles, pick up sticks, and hot wheels racers sets. My favorite toy was a set of Klackers. These came on the market in the late 60s and lasted into the early 70s. They looked like glass, but were actually lucite balls attached to a string with a ring or small handle attaching the two strings. The object was to get the two balls going up and down and have them “klick” and “klack” against each other. You would build up momentum until they were hitting on the top and bottom in an arc. It was very hard to do at first and when they hit your fingers instead of each other, it was incredibly painful, too. Without fail, every time I played with my Klackers I ended up with bruised and banged fingers. But I kept playing, day after day.
I’m reminded of my Klackers when I look at today’s economy. Consumers have been playing with debt for years and it’s been hurting them—but they just kept playing. In fact, between 1989 and 2001 credit debt nearly tripled from $238 billion to $692 billion, in 2015 it was up to $937 billion and at the end of 2019 it was close to 4 trillion. The average debt-laden American especially feels the pinch when they begin to pay their Christmas credit card bills in January. But there is hope and a way to get rid of most of that consumer debt by being intentional.
Here are seven basic tips to help you beware and prepare in the new year:
1. Credit Credibility ––The first step, no matter what your financial picture is to improve your FICO (Fair Isaac Credit Scores) as these scores can determine a variety of financial issues including auto insurance premiums, whether you’ll get the promotion or the job (many employers check FICOS), and whether you pay a security deposit for utilities. You can get a free copy of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com . If you downsize a home or a vehicle, you’ll also need to have an excellent FICO to get the best APR rates. You can improve your FICO in three easy steps:
- Pay your bills a day early (rather than a day late) by setting up payments online
- Pay $5 to $10 more than the minimum balance which indicates paying down debt
- Proportionality: make sure that you don’t have more than 50% of the available credit charged on any one card.
2. Savings Savvy– I get loads of emails every week from people who are cutting hundreds from their household budget by following simple savings tips. From insurance to groceries, there are savvy ways to save at your fingertips. Start to implement these tips and it will create good discipline that will prepare you for a recession. Use the money saved from these tips to pay down debt and build short term savings.
3. Debt Deal Dilemma: With a slowing economy comes an influx of those who want to “help” prepare you for the worse by consolidating your debt. However, most “for profit” debt counseling companies charge a hefty fee for their services which is usually tacked onto your debt load. Instead, go to the National Consumer Credit Counseling Service and use their free services.
4. Don’t Do Dumb Debt– As things begin to get tight, you might be tempted to get a HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) or refinance your home in order to pay consumer debt. Bad idea. This will only deteriorate the equity in your home and chances are really good you’ll be right back in that HUGE boat load of debt by this time next year. The better option is to cut costs, budget, and go to the NFCC.
5. Budget Baby and Learn – If you don’t have a budget, as part of your lifestyle, then yesterday was the day to start. Set one up with online budgeting tools, found at mint. It’s also important to learn how to budget, a great new program that helps military families with their money matters is supported by the Military Family Advisory Network called MilCents and it take their free course at your convenience.
6. Repurpose Funds: My daughter loves to take antiques and even junk and repurpose it to give it more life (and save money in the process). As you save money in one area, it’s important to redirect it to another area through proactive actions such as writing a check to pay debt or to fund your savings account.
7. Plan With A Purpose – Whenever a “theory” is tested, it must stand up to a “proof” in order to be established as true. You can have all this good stuff on paper, but if you slap down the credit card to pay for a “40% off” killer Marc Jacobs suit, or use debt to fund a vacation–then your plan is only a theory. For it to become REAL, you need to make it part of your daily life. This means you start living with your plan and don’t incur more debt. We talk a lot about this on my podcast, The Money Millhouse — it’s fun to plan with a purpose!
Happy Savings and Happy New Year!