One of the best things you can do for your finances is remember the cost of credit cards. It’s important to understand that some credit cards cost quite a lot — especially if you carry a balance. Knowing what you will pay for your credit is a big part of understanding your financial decisions and being careful about how to avoid getting into big trouble.
However, even with concerns about credit cards, the holiday season represents a time when many consumers let credit cards overtake their good sense. Once you start racking up the debt, it’s hard to stop, even though you know you need to. Plus, once you get stuck paying a lot of interest, it’s hard to get out of debt and move forward with your life and your finances.
While credit cards can be great tools to help you save money during the holidays, from transferring a balance to getting cash back rewards, it’s also important to be careful. You might be surprised at how quickly things can get out of hand.
Justifying Your Credit Card Use
One of the issues is that it’s so easy to justify credit card use during the holiday season. First of all, everyone expects to spend more money during this time of year. It’s considered “normal” to increase your spending. You go beyond your normal budget during this time of year in order to enjoy the holidays, so it seems natural to just spend without thinking about it.
Some of the more common justifications for overspending using credit cards during the holiday season include:
- But it’s for someone else: Sometimes it’s easier to justify going overboard when you are making purchases for someone else. You get a little carried away and forget about your frugal holiday plan as you buy more toys, or more expensive items. Don’t use this as a justification. True friends understand that you are doing your best.
- Get caught up in the spirit: It’s easy to get caught up in the spirit of things during the holiday season. You might want to put together a delicious holiday meal, or decorate. There are a lot of reasons to spend based on the holiday spirit, and it’s easy to get caught up in all that you want to do. As a result, you soon spend more than you expected, and the bills add up. Instead, make a list of what you want to spend, from gifts to decor, and stick with it.
- Spending for the rewards points: One of the most common justifications is that you are earning rewards when you spend. However, spending for the rewards rarely pays off. Usually, what you pay in interest offsets your rewards. Just because you are getting rewards is no reason to spend more than you had planned.
While credit card use during the holidays can be to your advantage, you have to be careful about it. You can’t get too carried away with your spending, or you will find yourself overwhelmed with debt, and unable to pay off your credit card as needed.
In order to make the most of your credit cards during the holidays, it’s important to make a plan ahead of time. Create a holiday budget so that you know exactly what you will spend and who you will spend for. Having a budget can help you avoid justifying some of the purchases you might otherwise make. The key is knowing what you will spend — and sticking to your budget.
Pay Off Your Balance
The whole point of taking advantage of credit cards during the holiday season is to earn some cash back, or get some other advantage from the way you spend. You won’t see that advantage if you carry a balance on your credit card. The high interest rate charged by credit cards negates your efforts to take advantage of rewards programs.
One of the hardest things to do during the holiday season is to pay off your credit card balance in full as you receive your statement. However, it’s important to make this step, otherwise you end up getting into debt over the holiday season. And that kind of defeats the purpose of being responsible during the holidays. Plus, it negates all of your rewards and makes it difficult to stay on your feet financially.
Not only that, but it can be a real let down at the end of the holidays to look at your credit card bill. After the holiday spirit wears off, and a new year is underway, it’s easy to become disappointed by your debt. Starting off the year in financial trouble can make it difficult to get moving forward with your new year.
You need to be realistic about the situation, and remember that the money you have available on your credit card isn’t actually your money. You are borrowing it from the credit card issuer. Too often, we think of a credit card limit as “our” money. However, it’s not actually money that you have in your bank account. It’s like taking out a short-term, high interest loan. You are using someone else’s money to buy what you want. If you carry a balance, you pay a hefty interest rate, and you put your finances behind.
Be careful about the way you use your credit card this holiday season. Have a plan for your spending, and stick to it. You’ll be in a better financial situation, and you can get through the holiday season with better rewards — and no debt.