5 Tips for Paying Off Holiday Bills

Mid-January is when the Day comes.  That is, the Day when you find out how big your credit card bill grew from holiday spending.  I’ll show you some grisly statistics and also how I’m gamifying the pay off.

You made your list.  You checked it twice.  Now you’re going to find out the cost and the price.  Billing day is coming to town.

According to the Rubicon Project Holiday Consumer Pulse survey, here’s what we were planning to spend on gifts:

  • Average American:  $1,175 (up 12% from $1,051 actually spent last year).
  • Millennials:  $1,427 (up 39% from $1,072 actually spent last year).  
  • Parents:  $1,700 (up 24% from $1,383 actually spent last year).  Of this amount, parents planned to spend $495 per child (up 25%, $100 more, than last year).  

(In case you think we’ve all become altruists, half of millennials and parents planned to buy gifts for themselves: men $400; women $242)

We Spend a Lot, We Owe a Lot:

We’re feeling quite spendy these days, making our 2015 selves prudish in contrast.  But let’s look a little bit more into what this spending implies, with some help from Credit Donkey:

  • Average American:  Almost half of us can’t cover an unexpected expense of $500 or less.  Yet, we spent twice that amount last year on Christmas gifts and planned to spend 12% more this past holiday.  We must think that our washing machine will last forever.  We’d rather buy new clothes than make sure the ones we have can be cleaned.
  • Millennials:  Even though we* planned to spend more than average, we don’t have any money to do it, since we save -2%.  In other words, we spend more than we make.  In other other words, we have or are going to have a mountain of credit card bills.  We spent pretty close to the average amount last year.  But being average is lame.  So we planned to spend 39% more.  Take that, Average American.  
  • Parents:  Boy do we treasure our kids.  We planned to buy each of our kids the equivalent of an iPad + 2 iPod Shuffles, or a Playstation 4 with several games.  When I was growing up, a video game system was something only the luckiest kid on our block got.  Now every kid gets something like that.  We go really far to impress our kids, even though many of us don’t have the money to pay for unexpected car repairs that take us to the jobs that help us pay for these extravagant gifts.  

One thing is clear.  The only way most of us can pay for these gifts is from our credit cards.  Hopefully, we’ve also got a plan to pay it off.

Let’s Have Fun:

When we buy our holiday gifts (and stuff in general) on credit, it’s really fun at first.  But after the fun dissipates, the credit card bill comes calling since we put off paying for the gifts for a month.  When we defer payment on gifts, fun and bills have inverse slopes.

(It’s fun — at least, I hope so — buying that special thing for our special person.  Then in mid-January, the fun leaves but the bill comes.  So, let’s make paying off the holiday expenses fun.)

Let’s make it fun** by gamifying it:  Although my holiday bills are smaller than average, I did get two silly parking tickets costing $332.  My approach is to gamify it in something I call “Skills to Pay the Bills.”***  The rule for my game is simple:  I was the one who made the head-scratching parking mistakes, so I can’t make others pay the price.  For example, I’m not cutting back on taking Zuzzy out on dates or Zack out on missions.   Also, I’ll think of every dollar saved as a point on the scoreboard.  These tips are actual things I’ve started doing.  

5 Tips to Pay Off Bills:

1. Make or Update that Budget:  Every year, I update my budget using last year’s data and factor in raises or changes in expenses.  Every year you should be better at budgeting because you know the contours of your expenses — the numbers that hide in the nooks and crannies — so there’s fewer surprises.  

(You know what a budget is, but do you know how to make one that’s helpful toward your goal?  Start here)

2. Pack Lunch at Least Twice a Week:  After years of budgeting, I know that I’m a $30 a week eating out lunch type of guy — pack 1 day and average $7.50 for the remainder.  This year, I’m going to make it $20.  This means I pack 2-3 days a week and go out the remainder.  I’m going to have to mix in more food carts (generally $5 a lunch) as well.  This one’s going to hurt, since eating food that someone else prepares is my tasty mid-day oasis.  Hard decisions need to be made when it comes to paying off bills, my friends.  

So I save $10 a week, but since I’m packing, I buy more in groceries.  We shop at Aldi, where a loaf of bread is $1.40.  My wife makes peanut butter with our Vitamix, using a $2 jar of peanuts.  I anticipate this loaf and peanut butter will last 3 weeks, so it costs $1.13 a week.  So 20 + 1.13 = 21.13, and 30 – 21.13 = 8.87 points a week.

3. Eliminate Weekend Treats:  I wake up Saturday mornings with one thing on my mind:  Iced tea. This is a $2-3 a week habit.  This is also going to hurt, but it’s also a chance to give up habits.  So let’s say 2.50 points a week.

4. Extend Haircuts:  My monthly haircuts cost $20.  So if I extend it to every other month, I can trim my own hair in the in-between months.  This won’t hurt, but don’t be surprised if I look a little goofy some weeks.  This amounts to 10 points a month, or 2.30 points a week.

5. Sell My Junk:  I live in a neighborhood with a strong email list, where people are always listing things for sale.  If I didn’t have this, I would used Craigslist or eBay.  Since it’s hard to predict if anyone will want to buy my junk, I’ll consider this upside.  The holidays bring in new stuff, so it’s nice to empty out the old stuff and make money along the way.

The Box Score:

I’m already down 332 points to zero at the singing of the anthem.  Let’s examine the gameplan:

  • Points Per Week:  8.87 + 2.50 + 2.30 = 13.67
  • Points Per Year:    710.84

332 points to 711.  The gameplan gives me a chance to score twice as much as the other team and win easily.  Now, it’s time to roll out the ball and play!

*I’m technically a little older than a millennial, but I’ll include myself since I’m close enough.

**Of course, there’s a funner way:  Set aside money for these expenses!

***Beastie Boys forever.



  • Chaney January 17, 2017 at 10:16 pm

    This post actually made me laugh out loud! Love the humor you were able to add to a post about paying off holiday bills!

    • JT January 18, 2017 at 9:49 pm

      Thanks Chaney! Here’s to a new year of laughter.


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