5 Best Ways to Recover from Holiday Spending Before April 15

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — If the holidays left you in the red, you're not alone. The average personal expense for gifts in 2013 totaled more than $700, according to Gallup, and Americans overall spent an estimated $602 billion on presents, food and decorations, according to the National Retail Federation. If you're eager to get your budget back on track before tax day on April 15, check out the five best ways to recover from holiday spending.

1. Stop spending

Stop the spending, says Alicia Botti, Ameriprise financial adviser in Northville, Mich.

"Once you know where you were spending to excess, stay away from danger area — whether it be takeout food, certain stores, etc. — until you have your new spending habits established," Botti says.

Unfortunately, now is the time of year would-be savers turn into "out of season" shoppers, says Jana Francis, founder of discount shopping site Steals.com.

"A lot of people think that shopping now, post-holidays, will snag them great deals. Don't do it," Francis says, adding that this kind of thinking only leads you to buy things you don't need — which means you're actually spending more.

"I still have Christmas lights I bought at 75% off many years ago that isn't even opened — because I bought it because it was on sale, not because I needed it. Buy for things you will need in the next two weeks — not the next 12 months," she says.

2. Make cutbacks

Cut back on a few luxuries temporarily, like your monthly pedicure or fancy coffees, says Trae Bodge, senior editor of RetailMeNot.

"Instead of going to the gourmet salad bar near the office, bring lunch from home," Bodge says. "Also, scrap the monthly car wash with detailing and/or the extra movie channels on your cable account. You'll pay that fund back in no time!"

If you're unsure where the "luxuries" are in your budget, Adam Levin, chairman and co-founder of Credit.com, suggests looking for "leaks" in your budget.

"Take a look at the kind of expenses you accrue in a given week. Look at the $4 lattes and the iPhone apps you can't seem to live without. Little things that add up that seem to be invisible at the time, but they add up, and then you have a problem," Levin says.

Although it may be tempting to go to extremes and cancel your cable bill, for example, Levin cautions against going overboard cutting out budget items that are more necessities than wants.

"Make sure the changes that you make are sustainable changes that you can commit to. Don't just cut your cable off one month only to turn it back on again next month," he says.

3. Get on a payment plan; start taking out high interest rate debts first

"If your holiday spending resulted in credit card debt, work out a payment plan that will get it paid off as soon as possible and include that payment amount in your spending plan," Botti says.

Keep in mind that not all credit card debt is created equal — prioritize your payments based on interest rate, Levin says.

"The biggest debt isn't necessarily the most expensive debt. Look at interest rates to see which are highest, then attack that balance first and work it down," Levin says. "As long as you have high interest balances lurking around, whatever you buy new is costing you 20% to 30% more than it should."

For credit cards, the concept of "paying down debt" is complicated if you don't understand what fees are associated with those debts, says Jim Schinella, CEO of budgeting tool Manilla.

"Understand going in where you get charged the most," Schinella says. "Understanding the numbers is just as important as paying the bills off."

4. Return, regift or resell

It's perfectly OK to return some purchases to the store if you don't love them, Levin says. Also, when it comes to items you were given but don't want, keep re-gifting in mind.

"If there is someone you have to buy for during the year, don't be afraid to set those unwanted items aside for them," Levin explains. "When you're given a present that you're unsure of, don't take the tags off for a few days. Look at it, try it on, and see if you really want it."

For bigger-ticket items, think about looking to resale sites such as eBay or Amazon, Levin says.

"If you think it's worth a lot, then go online and see what similar items are selling for. If you think you can get enough to make it worth your time, then definitely sell it," he says.

Getting rid of things in the secondary marketplace is always a good strategy for generating a little extra cash, Schinella says.

"If selling the things you don't use is going to help you reach your goal sooner, then what better time to do it than now?" he says.

5. Create a transparent budget — and reward yourself

It's imperative to have a very clear sense of where you stand with your finances every day, Schinella says.

"When you know what you need to do, you can pick a date and work towards that goal," Schinella explains. "But one of the key challenges with financial management is full transparency. Manilla users are able to see all of their financials in one place, and having that visibility is really key to success."

When you're budgeting, set milestones in addition to the big quarterly goals to keep your spirits up, Levin says.

"It's OK to celebrate," he says. "You can say, 'When I reach this milestone, I am going to dinner and a movie.' Find yourself a modest reward."

— By Kathryn Tuggle

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