While managing a budget is a constant challenge, stretching
finances is especially difficult with credit card bills arriving
from Christmas purchases.
Experts say it's still possible to take charge of your budget in 2013.
Officials at Apprisen encourage consumers to begin the New Year by getting and staying on track with their money, a resolution with lifelong benefits.
Apprisen, a national nonprofit credit counseling agency for more than 55 years, has certified counselors who provide money management and debt counseling. Local offices of Consumer Credit Counseling merged with Apprisen last year. West Virginia offices are located in Cross Lanes and Bluefield.
Crystal Kudlak, division manager based in Cross Lanes, said January and February are typically the busiest times of the year.
"People are getting bills, and there is the shock factor," she said. "People say, 'Did I really spend that much on Christmas?' "
She suggests immediately stashing credit cards where they are not readily accessible. Whittle away at the balance by making more than the minimum payment each month. Credit card statements list how long it will take to pay off a card by making minimum payments along with interest costs. That alone is an eye-opener.
If things seem totally out of hand, a free consultation may be scheduled by calling 800-355-2227 or 304-720-3640. There is a fee, based on income, for those who choose to become a client in the debt management plan. Visit the website www.apprisen.com for more information on available services.
However, there are immediate steps for anyone who wants to get a handle on money.
"I think the most important thing is to look at take home pay and regular monthly expenses," Kudlak said.
Once regular bills are listed and prioritized, you can see where expenses may be trimmed. For example, do you really need a cell phone and a landline? Is cable a necessity or can it at least be honed down to a less expensive package?
Check how much you spend at the grocery store and look for ways to cut costs in that area. Try some store brands, clip coupons on regularly used items, and watch advertised specials. Plan a menu, make a grocery list, and stick to it.
"Sometimes we get stuff and don't realize we already have it," she said. "Clean out cabinets so you know what you have."
Tracking expenses can help plug leaks. She suggests writing down all expenditures and then taking stock to see where you are willing to make adjustments.
For example, if you are spending $5 a day on a doughnut and coffee, write it down. If you pick up takeout for dinner or eat lunch out, add it to the daily log. Cooking and eating at home or packing a lunch can add up to more cash in your pocket.
Shopping clearance racks can save money on everything from clothes and gift purchases to linens and holiday cards or wrap. But remember it is not a deal if buying it requires putting it on a credit card and paying interest.
A good way to save money is to have it automatically taken out of your paycheck and placed in a separate account so it is there for emergencies. She noted that financial institutions also would work out plans to move money from checking to savings on a regular basis.
And it isn't too soon to think about the next holiday season with a Christmas club account to avoid going into debt for gifts in 2013.
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