Whether you went overboard during an end–of–season sale, splurged on a luxury vacation, or treated yourself to a brand–new gadget, there may have been a time in your life where you got a little carried away with credit card spending. Whatever the reason for your spending binge, here are five smart ways to start to recover from credit card debt.
1. Balance your books
The first thing you need to do to manage debt is figure out how much money you need to get your finances back on track. Check your credit card balance and receipts to see exactly how much you’ve overspent, then create a budget that lists essential spending you can’t cut back on as well as the expenses you might be able to adjust to make savings. Crunch the numbers to see if making a few lifestyle changes is enough to address your credit card debt or whether you need to explore other options.
2. Supplement your income
When small changes aren’t enough to cover the bills and get out of credit card debt, you may want to consider picking up more work. That could mean putting in additional hours at your job (if you have the option) or checking out independent contractor websites for short–term, “virtual” jobs that allow you to put your professional skills to work, entirely on your terms.
That’s the route digital strategist Lauren Chinnock took when she ran up too much credit card debt after moving to New York. “I knew that I had to cut back on my spending, but I also decided to use my skills by doing some freelance copywriting in my spare time,” she says. “Not only did this earn me some extra cash, it also helped me to make some great new contacts within my industry.”
3. Set rules for spending less
It may sound obvious, but one of the most effective ways to help manage your credit card debt is to simply spend less. Just be sure to focus first on non–essential spending (in other words, leave your retirement and savings contributions alone). Consider challenging yourself to one or two “no-spend” days each week, where you pay for nothing other than the essentials, such as food and commuting. It might also be worth shopping around for better deals on pricey monthly bills, like your gym membership or cable and internet package. You might even want to put a temporary hold on your membership or cable subscription until you get your finances in order.
4. Get creative to keep impulses in check
See something you really want? Hold off on purchasing it for a day or so; if you can justify the item after that time, allow yourself to buy it. This “cooling–down” period helps to rein in impulse purchases and keep your spending under control, because sometimes 48 hours is all it takes for you to realize you didn’t need an item after all.
Reframing the way you think about money can help, too. “If I’m shopping and see something that catches my eye, I work out how much it will cost me in work hours, which really helps me to decide how much I want and need it,” Chinnock explains. “Another tip I swear by is keeping a list of my debts and savings on my phone, which again prevents me from splurging on something that I can’t afford or justify.”
There are also budgeting apps available to help you keep spending impulses in check. When the urge to buy strikes, instead of giving in, pull out your phone and enter the amount you would have spent on the item. These money management apps keep a tally of these would–be purchases and show you how much you would have spent on them over time. Using a credit card can also be a helpful budgeting tool — you just need to use it wisely. For more ideas, check out 6 Tips for Becoming a Smart Credit Card User.
5. Earn more from what you have
You could be sitting on an often–overlooked source of cash. Literally. Go through your belongings and sell unwanted items on online auction sites, community boards, or even social media marketplaces. Consign designer clothing and handbags to help recoup some of your past credit card spending; in some cases, these high–priced items hold their value well. Additionally, some stores will offer store credit on used items like textbooks, CDs, DVDs, video game consoles, or smartphones, which you can put toward the cost of new items.
Have a spare room you’re not using or want to make some extra money the next time you’re away from home? Think about renting it out. (Just double–check that it doesn’t violate your lease agreement and is compliant with your city’s laws and regulations around hosting.) Thanks to the rise of home rental websites, the arrangement can be temporary, and you can pick and choose the best times to have a house guest. There are plenty of home renting services, so do your research and find the one that’s right for you. Before you list your place, read our article, 6 Do’s and Don’ts of Renting Your Home While Traveling.
The main thing to remember after a spending splurge is to not panic – there are always ways to manage credit card debt and get back on track. For more ideas, check out the article 9 Steps to Help Build Credit Health After a Setback.