Updated on 06.05.14

The Day After: Six Ways to Deal With the Post-Christmas Money Blues – And Plan Ahead for Next Year

Trent Hamm

My father likes to joke that the happiest day of the year is December 25, and the saddest is December 26, because that’s when the bills start arriving. While I’d like to chuckle at that joke, a pile of credit card bills isn’t really very funny – in fact, just thinking of it brings back some sad memories. Here are six ways to deal with a pile of post-Christmas credit card bills – and also prepare yourself for minimizing that mountain of bills next year.

1. Think carefully about what went right – and what went wrong – this year. There were likely some gifts you gave that were great bargains and others that were overpriced duds. What can you learn from that? What sorts of gifts are really great bargains for the people on your list? For example, I could spend hundreds on my grandmother, but one gift that will always make her really happy is gourmet coffee (and related supplies) – so why not just focus on finding gourmet coffee bargains out there.

2. Start saving for next year now – and do it automatically. Sign up for an online savings account, like one at ING Direct (the bank I personally use) or HSBC Direct (another solid choice). Once you’re signed up, set up the account to withdraw $20 a week from your checking account. Magically, at the end of next November, that account will have nearly $1,000 in it for you to spend on Christmas gifts (after 48 weeks, it will actually have somewhere near $970 in it, depending on interest). That can help pay for much of the Christmas expense and not leave you facing a mountain of bills.

3. Do your incidental shopping for next Christmas in the next week or so. The week after Christmas is the best time to buy wrapping paper, ribbons, cards, tags, and so on for next Christmas. Pick them up at 50% off (or better) right now, then toss them into storage for eleven months. You can save some decent cash doing this. We do it every single year.

4. Make your Christmas list now for next year. Make a list of everyone you plan on buying gifts for next Christmas, then start keeping an eye out for gifts right now. For example, I have next year’s list largely ready to go, along with gift ideas for many of the people. This enables me to spend the entire year finding huge bargains on great gifts. I just simply look for the items on sale over the next twelve months.

5. If you’re going to drop your Christmas shopping on credit next year, make sure you at least have a decent credit card. Don’t just use the trusty ol’ generic MasterCard or Visa in your wallet. Instead, investigate other options and move to a primary card that can actually stick some useable and valuable rewards in your pocket. Our primary card gets us about 3% cash back, for example, when averaged out over all of our purchases. There are many different cash back credit cards available with point systems for different categories of spending.

6. Look for “better” ways to pay off the bills. Your local credit union or bank might give you a low-interest personal loan which you can use to eliminate your high-interest credit card debt – alternately, you could consolidate all of it via balance transfer onto a card offering a 0% APR balance transfer. You might also use this opportunity to clean out your closet and get rid of a bunch of stuff you don’t really need, selling it on eBay or at a local consignment shop.

As for us, we’ve actually already made our 2008 list of people to buy for, and we’re headed out to buy wrapping paper, bows, cards, and the like on Friday.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. One thing that worked for me was to buy all presents on Black Friday—this way I’m done on time and I got some really good deals.

    The budget, on the other hand… well, I failed that part.

  2. Johanna says:

    Here’s one where I admit I could have done better this year: Spend plenty of time talking (and listening) to the people you’re shopping for. As you pointed out, a modest gift that’s perfect for the recipient can bring more joy than an expensive gift that isn’t, but the less you know about what the person’s up to these days, the harder it is to know what the perfect gift would be.

  3. I’ve taken one point of your advice before you even gave it! Right after I bought almost everyone’s gift this year, I came up with a dozen more ideas for them. So I’m making a list and will keep an eye out for deals during the year. Maybe I’ll even have all my shopping done before Thanksgiving this way! At the very least, I won’t be panicked at the last minute.

  4. sp says:

    I simplified the holidays and holiday shopping by just saying “no” to Christmas. So I no longer buy wrapping supplies or decorations, and I do not exchange gifts with friends — we simply treat each other to dinner or movies on occasion. Saves us all lots of shopping!

    Our mothers like to exchange gifts, and so I look for things throughout the year. I try to give my mother something that will not take up space in her small apartment: one year it was a tickets to a James Taylor concert; and this year, we installed a programmable thermostat, a new furnace filter, and compact fluorescent bulbs for my mother — all of which will help her save money throughout the year but will not take up any extra space. His mother is getting a three-year subscription to her favorite magazine.

    I keep extra funds in my checking account for treating friends and the mothers. I use a rewards card for all my purchases, and I transfer the money from my checking account.

  5. mamacita says:

    I had no luck at all with after-Christmas sales. You’ll have to tell me how you fare.

  6. Mary McK. says:

    We managed to keep our spending way down this year, but I would rather try your method of saving $20 a week and not have to worry about it so much next year.

    One thing we have done that I really love: we have bought pretty Christmas fabric at after-Christmas sales and made drawstring gift bags. After a few years of making bags, we are now wrapping-paper free and the tree always looks so festive. I’m not much of a sewer but I can manage these bags – no pattern necessary. If we have a really awkward sized gift we can make a new bag for it. So – no need to go out and buy paper and other wrapping supplies any more, no stressful last-minute rush to wrap, and kids can “wrap” gifts with no help. My husband’s family actually started this trend so they send us gifts in bags they have made, and vice versa, so we just keep them circulating!

  7. victoriana says:

    Thanks for the tips, Trent. I’ve just returned home from a hectic boxing day shopping experience. But I totally loved it. I was shopping “with sense”. I’ve been frugal this year and it was exciting to buy stuff from my favorite stores, most of which normally cost hundreds. Today, I was looking at 30%-60% off and it was fun. Yes, I like high end stuff but life is about choices and preferences.

    After a long exhausting day, I told myself I’ll turn this into an annual experience. So, I’m starting to save up for the next boxing day shopping magic! Yes, that has been one of the decisions I made today. That would even make it more fun! Thanks for your posts.

  8. Jackie says:

    This year I made a lot of my gifts and that went over really well. I decided that this year I would do the envelope system but for Christmas. So now most people have an envelope and over the year I will put in extra ones when I have them.

  9. elizabeth says:

    I went out yesterday and picked up bath baskets for graduation gifts, picked up mother’s day presents, a bridal shower gift, and three birthday gifts for the coming year. A lot of the Target and Walmart items don’t say Christmas anywhere on them, but at 50% off because they have a “Christmas” tag on them. While not everything is a great deal and you have to sort through it you can still find great deals.

  10. luvleftovers says:

    My family kept it simple this year. The adults are practicle and we buy mostly clothes and movies for the teenagers. Most of my purchases are already paid for and the few that are left will be paid for by Monday. I basically paid as I went, putting whatever I put on the CC within 48 hours of the purchase. It worked quite well and I didn’t have to carry a lot of cash. I love on-line banking!

  11. Tracy says:

    My fiance and I are trying to pay off mounds of credit card debt that we accrued so long ago we can’t remember what it was spent on.

    We convinced both of our families to do gift exchanges with a maximum gift value of $30. This meant we only bought 4 gifts this year and we kept our Christmas spending to under $200. We took the money our relatives gave us and bought ourselves a new vacuum which we needed. We didn’t exchange gifts between each other because we’re saving up for our wedding/honeymoon in 2008.

    This is the second year we’ve done a gift exchange with our families and it works really well.

    The best Christmas will be in two years from now when we’ve finally paid off ALL of our credit card bills!!!

  12. Liz says:

    After all of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, going here and going there, SHOPPING AND SPENDING MONEY, the LAST thing I want to do is go BACK out to the stores to spend MORE money, deals or no deals!!! ENOUGH to the spending and bringing MORE stuff (most of it not needed!) into my home. So there :) :)

  13. feefifoto says:

    I appreciate everything I read on your blog; it makes a lot of plain sense to me, and should to everyone else also. Just linked to you from mine:

  14. Viv says:

    Wow! I love your column but I can see from the list of gifts you received why you are still working hard on being frugal. That is a lot of stuff! Seems like you have a long way to go…

  15. Ben says:

    The christmas just passed was the first one to not have a debt residue via credit card. At the family christmas get togther the children received presents while any presents for the adults were very modest.

    I quit drinking soft drink this year and the coins that I put in money tins instead in soft drink vedning machines covered christmas food and drink and new year’s eve celebrations.

    In Australia there is an absolute frenzy over the boxing day sales. I took advantage of the sales by layby-ing a year’s worth of yeans at 50% off and getting a pair of $100.00 joggers for $31.00. For those that overindulged on the Credit Cards there will be some unhappiness when the Reserve Bank raises interest rates in Febuary or March this year.

    I’m back at work today with leftovers for lunch and fruit brought from home for my morning and afternoon snacks, and I’m loving it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *