Laurie Campbell, CEO of Credit Canada

If you’re like many Canadians, your holiday spending was ‘out of control’ and you’re now suffering from a debt hangover, complete with trouble sleeping, stress and stomach pain. Fights with your spouse or partner may be more frequent and may include the blame game.

Some people even have an aversion to checking their mailbox or inbox (wherever their credit card statements land). But reality is sinking in: according to a Canadian Imperial Bank of Canada poll, 25 per cent of Canadians say paying off debt is their number one financial goal for 2018. That’s perhaps no surprise: the average Canadian household owes $1.72 for every dollar earned in disposable income.

“There are pretty solid things people can do to get themselves back on track but the first thing is to recognize you need patience and time to turn over your financial situation,” says Laurie Campbell, CEO of Credit Canada. The non-profit charity provides free credit counselling and debt consolidation services and has locations across the country, including in Markham (https://www.creditcanada.com/contact-us/markham).

“The next step is to create a budget or spending plan so you know where your money’s going, tally up outstanding debt and talk to family members about how you’re going to tackle this together,” Campbell says. Her tips:

Get off the treadmill of spending. Limit your shopping to essentials, such as groceries and other necessities, even if you think there are great deals to be had. “If you’re in debt and struggling financially, no deal is good enough,” she reminds. “If you’re saving money and keeping money off of high-interest credit cards, you’re not missing out.”

Put your credit cards away. Instead, use your debit card. “If you’re sticking to your budget, you should be able to keep yourself aligned with what you said you’re going to be spend,” Campbell says.

Check your budget regularly. There are some great online budgeting tools but sometimes it’s just as easy to take pen to paper and stick it on your fridge so it’s in your sightline, she advises. “Make sure you check your budget regularly – daily or weekly – to make sure you’re on track. Keep your receipts and check them against what you said you were going to spend.”

Seek help if necessary. If your financial situation is gloomier than you thought, take advantage of free credit counselling to create a plan of action about how to manage your finances moving forward. “Often, people don’t talk to anybody about their financial situation because it’s a taboo subject so they really don’t know where to begin.

“It can be an explosive situation in the family environment if not handled properly – if one partner is trying to save and the other is spending, for example,” Campbell says. Her strategy:

• Pay off high-interest debt first but make at least minimum payments on lower-interest credit cards.
• Cancel credit cards that have no balance but charge an annual fee.
• If possible, get a consolidation loan or line of credit. Once you pay off that debt, cancel the credit cards.

“As you make these decisions, make some lifestyle decisions to go along with them,” says Campbell. That could include working overtime or getting a second job to get back on track, taking a staycation instead of a vacation, taking your lunch to work instead of eating out, selling things you no longer need and cancelling unused services, such as a gym membership.

“People often think of this as punitive but there’s nothing worse than sleepless nights and stressful days because you just don’t have control of your finances. Some small changes can make a big difference.”