‘Tis the Season for Bills: A Chat About Holiday Debt With a Finance Industry Expert

Our Monthly Chat this month is with an industry expert here to help us stay out of holiday debt – but this advice can help year round.

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Our Monthly Chat series continues — and our industry expert of choice this month brings us some highly topical information!

One in four Americans planned on racking up holiday debt in 2016. These stats aren’t specific to millennials, but that’s not to say we aren’t included in that one in four. While our Finance Cheat Sheet is helpful in this arena, we’ve also chatted with Albert Ramos, CEO and Founder of Educate Your Pockets, LLC, a new website that specializes in financial management. Here’s what he had to say about holiday debt, how you can stay out of it, or, how you can find your way out of it:

What is your best advice for millennials looking to stay out of holiday debt?

Make sure every dollar has a purpose and pay with cash. When you write (or type) down a budget for your holidays, you’re more likely to stick to it. And if you’re going to pay for something, pay with cash that you have –- if you don’t have it, then it doesn’t fit within your budget. Don’t let the worries of finding the “best” gifts, or holiday shopping ruin your progress towards achieving your financial goals.

Also, I always meet with my clients before the holidays to go over their New Year’s goals or “resolutions” – – this puts them in the mindset of what they cannot do during the holidays if they want to start the year off right with their money. They remember: no holiday hangovers this year or regretting the “travel-on-a-credit-card” (check out my blog post on this topic).

How do most millennials even get into holiday debt?

From my experience, the top reason why millennials get into holiday debt is that they use credit cards and spend money they don’t have. Holidays are so amazing, fun, festive and tasty, and the season is always a great time of year. However, every year the pressures of holiday shopping (Cyber Monday, Black Friday, the “Christmas Deal” that lasts two weeks or more) continue to increase, and millennials get really stressed out about finding the best gift or deal…..and unfortunately, pull out their plastic (credit) to fund and satisfy those worries, stresses and pressures. Without a plan, it’s easy to stray and not stay disciplined.

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Do credit cards help or hinder millennials in their spending and finance management?

Such a great question – and there are two differing philosophies here. Some may say that credit cards are fine because they help you build credit. True – my counter, however, is that your credit score is your relationship with debt.

Credit card companies are not aggressive in ad spend and direct mail to “help you” pay for all the things you want now. Credit card companies and banks are in the business of making money – they make millions and millions of dollars from millennials spending money they don’t have, including the interest that they initially thought they’d never have to pay (“I always payoff my credit card each month”….). And if you’re like most people, unfortunately, your constant spending with “free money” catches up to you when that spending you couldn’t afford starts to build up and gets out of control due to interest payments compounding.

I truly believe that sticking to a solid cash plan, building your savings and investments, eliminating debt and working hard to increase your income (salary) is the way to go. If you have trouble doing that, use your debit card rather than credit card, go old school…do the cash envelope diet. Sounds archaic, but it totally works.

What do you see millennials doing “wrong” in the arena of budgeting – for the holidays, and all year round?

Couple of things: not creating a specific and realistic plan (every dollar must have a purpose and you need to know where it goes; and the plan must be realistic depending on your situation – – if you keep the budget unrealistically tight, you’ll end up going over budget which influences many to rationalize more overspend). Second thing, focus and follow-up. Focus and follow-up are two very important variables to building wealth and sticking to your budget. Millennials should have their budgets visible when making holiday purchases. It will reinforce behaviors that will allow them to stick to it. Staying within budget and finding those great deals on gifts you really wanted to get is great!

Oh no! You’ve found yourself in debt. Now, how do we get out of it?”

It happens. It’s nothing to be ashamed about. It’s the unfortunate reality for our generation – we have too much debt. But it’s okay – if you create a plan to get out of debt it’s totally achievable – but you must make it a priority. Debt not only sneaks up on you if you’re not paying attention, but it loves to grow. Create a short-term and long-term plan to payoff your debts (credit cards, student loans, etc.), starting with the smallest one first. You want some quick wins, similar to those pounds you want to lose right away when working out hard – it feels good, and stimulates those endorphins.

First take out the small loans, and once you don’t have any payments left for those, use what you would have normally paid for those on the bigger loans and get rid of it fast. Now, you may have to also make some sacrifices on current things you spend on. 6-12 months of sacrifice so you can live debt free, travel the world and start your large savings/investment account feels so much better. Trust me – check out my blog on #TheDebtDiet. I highly recommend if you’re in any type of debt, get started on my Debt-Free Program – – I know a ton of millennials that have started and are feeling more confident about their money than ever before.

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Are there any apps out there that can help millennials budget while making sure they pay their post-holiday bills?

There are some great apps out there, tons that are free on your mobile device. I personally provide your very own personal financial website that does this all for you when you get started with an Educate Your Pockets Program – in which I personally look at it every morning for you to make sure you’re following your plan. Very similar to a virtual personal trainer, I’m your virtual financial assistant in your pocket.

Are there any other resources out there, such as Twitter accounts to follow or podcasts to listen to, that you would recommend?

Definitely check out my Instagram @EducateYourPockets–I do a morning daily Instagram Live show called #DailyPockets where I answer financial questions that people email me about on my website. I also do a Facebook Live chat @EducateYourPockets where I do a similar Q&A on Friday nights for those that need an extra reminder before having fun on the weekends.

The Educate Your Pockets Podcast will be coming out in a few weeks, so look out for that, I’ll also be launching it with my new eBook #RetireAndChill ……this will be a fun and simple guide for millennials to start investing in a retirement plan like a Roth IRA, Traditional IRA, and/or 401(k). I can’t wait! Millennials are going to love it! I love tweeting financial tips on my Twitter @EYPFinance and make sure to Snap me at “pocketseyp” where you’ll be able to see more of my personal life and watch me interact with other millennials that hire me to help them achieve financial success.

Albert Ramos, Founder and CEO of Educate Your Pockets, LLC, received his Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Occidental College and his MBA in Finance from the University of Redlands. With over ten years of experience in Management, including being responsible for annual budgets exceeding $50M, Ramos offers clients diverse experience and education within the financial sector. For more information on how you can work with Educate Your Pockets, LLC, please e-mail albertramos@educateyourpockets.com or call (909) 580-7232.

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