Many holiday bills are shipped before "Blue Monday," the third Monday in January -- what some social scientists bill as the "most depressing day of the year."
Blue Monday or not, this year, TransUnion estimates that consumers will experience $131 billion in sticker shock, also known as the amount shoppers will spend using their credit cards this month.
That's a big number, suggesting Americans are back to overspending during the Christmas season and will be back to opening fat credit card bills come January.
It doesn't have to be that way, experts say. Even with one week left in the year and in the holiday spending timeframe, there are still myriad ways credit card users can cut spending and reduce that January bill. That helps keep any unfortunate stress out of the repayment phase of the holiday shopping experience.
"Consumers need to be forward thinking to ensure credit card debt doesn't last well into the new year," says Penelope Graham, an editor at RateSupermarket.ca, a Canadian credit card services firm. "By carrying the wrong credit card, [consumers] could be losing out on hundreds of dollars in potential rewards and those prone to carrying a balance are at risk of lasting debt damage from these expenses."
RateSupermarket.ca recommends a few steps to take to keep your plastic from imploding your financial life during the holidays:
Count on rewards. Don't let a single card rewards point go unused. The holidays may offer up numerous ways to unsheathe your credit card, but it also offers plenty of ways to cash in on rewards points, travel perks and cash-back deals.
Plan ahead for a better bill in January. It might be too late for this year, but it's always a good idea to "plan ahead" for a better bill by grabbing a low-balance transfer credit card option. With good credit, it's fairly easy to land a lower-rate card, which allows you to plow more of your repayment cash toward your credit card balance.
Use cash. Yes, just dump the card in a desk drawer and use cash or a debit card for your holiday purchases -- what a novel idea. But it's a novel idea that really works. Using cash or a debit card forces you to stick to a budget, and avoids the kind of overspending that triggers such agitation in holiday consumers.
It's also a good idea to avoid impulse purchases using a credit card. Rate Supermarket says that 67% of Canadians would buy gifts for themselves during the holiday season -- the ultimate form of impulse purchases.
Avoiding credit card-related sticker shocks and a Blue Monday next month is a matter of self-discipline and good planning. Use both to keep your credit card bill in check come January.