Have you been feeling down lately? Well, if it helps lift your spirits, know that you’re not alone. A combination of lousy weather, post-holiday malaise, and holiday-related credit card debt has resulted in the third Monday of every January being labelled as “Blue Monday,” the most depressing day of the year. The day has likely spawned off the notion that most people receive their December credit card statements during the third week of January. And this year, Blue Monday so happens to fall on January 21.
While Blue Monday is described as pseudo-science at best – and “completely made-up” by others, opening your credit card bill and coming face-to-face with higher-than-usual debt is never a good feeling. Here are a couple of tips to get your finances back in the black and stave off the debt-related blues.
Cut back to get ahead
There’s no denying that escalating debt can cause sleepless nights at the very least, and lead to legitimate, diagnosable depression if the debt continues to grow. Step one in stopping a debt spiral is to track your spending. It’s never too late to start a new year’s resolution, right?
Make short-term goals and start small. Try this: for the next week, keep track of everything you spend money on, from the change you pop into the office vending machine to utility bills and credit card purchases. At the end of the week, tally it all up and you’ll likely catch some areas where you could cut back.
For example, you may be victim to what credit counsellors refer to as “the latte factor.” You’d be surprised by how much your daily coffee run can cost you per year. A mere $2 a day for a cup on the way to the work can add up to over $500 over a year ($2 multiplied by five days a week, multiplied by 52 weeks = $520). Same goes for lunches on-the-run, drinks after work, and basically any snack, drink or meal you don’t prepare yourself. You could easily be spending thousands of dollars a year without even thinking about it.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you should eat ramen noodles all week long. You can still enjoy delicious treats without having to spring for expensive takeout all the time. Canadian winter weather (especially this year) means you’re likely spending more time at home anyway, so you may have a little extra time to plan out your meals and concoct some special recipes, with extra to take to work the next day.
Point is, once you start tracking your spending and developing a habit out of it for a few weeks, you will spot areas where you can reign in spending.
Give yourself more time
You may be thinking, “There is no way I’m going to be able to pay this credit card bill within a month.”
But the last thing you want to do is make a partial or minimum payment, especially if your card has a high interest rate.
For example, if your credit card has an interest rate of 19.99% and you have an outstanding balance of $5,000, it will take you over 25 years to pay it off if you choose to do minimum payments, costing you $9,182.73 in extra interest! Insane!
Why add on more debt when can barely handle your current debt?
Buy yourself more time to gradually pay off your debt with a low-interest balance transfer credit card.
A great option is the MBNA True Line® Mastercard®, which has no annual fee and comes with a 0% interest rate for the first six months of cardmembership on balance transfers made within the first three months of opening your account. After six months, your interest rate climbs to 12.99 per cent for balance transfers and purchases, which is still one of the lowest rates on the market.
Therefore, you can transfer that $5,000 balance and pay it off in increments over six months, without paying a penalty.
There is a 1% fee on the amount you transfer, but that’s a small price to pay to give yourself more time!
Think outside the box
Rather than spending money on movie tickets and overpriced professional sporting events (and the pricey snacks and drinks that go with the show), why not look into some of the countless free activities that take place every day? Check your city’s website for featured free events in your community, from museum exhibits and fitness boot camps, to theatre shows and concerts. Not to mention libraries, community centres, and other public spaces that may feature free seminars and presentations from time to time. Or rather than paying to go to a movie or a game, why not get a group of friends together for a movie night or a pickup game? Combine that with a potluck too to save on dinner! It’ll be good for the heart, soul, stomach, and wallet.
In case you’re wondering… Where did Blue Monday come from?
While it identifies as a very real frame of mind and financial institution for many people, it turns out that the concept of “Blue Monday” had a dubious start. Initially fabricated in a press release by a now-defunct UK travel channel, the release cited the source as a “Cardiff University professor” … who in reality was a part-time night school teacher who was paid to put his name to the report.
So whether you believe the hype or not, don’t let post-holiday debt get to you. Cut back and get creative to beat the Blue Monday blues.
This post has been updated.