Sinead Ryan: 10 top tips to cure your festive spending hangover
Still spending in the sales? Went a little mad over Christmas? Chances are your 'flexible friend' took a battering and will be about as flexible and friendly as a brick come January.
We all overspend at this time of year, and dealing with the debts during the longest month is always a challenge, so this week I'm looking at ways to solve the problem by getting to grips with your credit card.
According to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) the top regrets when it comes to plastic include impulse buying something that was never used, a 'deal' in the sales that wasn't a great bargain after all and buying too many toys for the kids.
If this sounds familiar don't worry: here is some help.
1 Don't beat yourself up
So, you have a whopping big bill due - so does everyone else. The important thing is to know how much it's going to be and how long it will take to pay off.
2 Don't ignore it
Credit cards are maximum-interest-rate loans. Racking up interest on the interest because you're scared of facing it will only add to the problem.
3 Plan better
Like all life changes, small increments that become habit are best. Getting overwhelmed won't help. Give yourself a break and decide to plan better.
4 Avoid minimum payments
Your bank will only ever ask you for a 'minimum payment', which is usually 2.5pc of the balance owed. They make a lot more profit if this is all you pay, but you're making it impossible to ever get out of debt. For example, a €3,000 balance will take a ridiculous 5 years and 7 months to pay off at €75 per month. Double it to €150 and you'll clear it in just over two years, while €300 a month gets rid of it in a year.
5 Switch card
Many banks offer credit cards to new customers with 0pc interest on balance transfers (see panel). Don't worry, they're not being charitable. They know someone who carries a big debt is likely to spend more; that makes you a profit-earner for them. But if you take the time to clear the debt and don't use the card again, you win.
6 Work out, realistically, how long it will take you to clear your balance
Set yourself a goal to have it done by April. After all, you'll be giving up spending in January, and you can put any extra cash against your card (as long as you don't use it in that time). Sometimes, extra discipline is needed. If you need to be 'minded' from yourself, cut your card lengthwise - that way you have the numbers for emergency purchases, but you can't use it on impulse.
Or, put it in a plastic bag, in a child's lunchbox and fill it with water. Place in the freezer. You'll need to wait until it defrosts, so the yearning to rush to the shops may be gone.
7 Consider consolidating the debt and moving it to the credit union
Interest rates are around 12pc a year which gives you breathing space to clear the loan (and a year to do it). Get rid of the card while you're doing it.
8 Track your spending
Set up a direct debit for a repayment you can afford and put it on your card each month - irrespective of whether you have a debt or not. That way, you'll avoid late payment charges and always have money. Better still, ditch the credit for a debit card. It's cheaper and it's only your own money. If you feel you'll fall short, ask your bank for an overdraft. It's expensive (11-14pc), but still less than credit card rates.
9 Never withdraw cash with a credit card
It costs a fortune and you may be charged extra fees for it.
10 Vow to stop 'tapping' your card
If you're regularly overspending on plastic, those small purchases add up and are easy to forget. Use your PIN every time instead.