BY JOEY FERNANDEZ Contributing columnist
Editor's note: Action Line is a weekly column from the Better Business Bureau answering consumers' questions and concerns about money and business issues.
Dear Action Line:
I have just received a wave of bills from all of my holiday spending. I'm in over my head. I wasn't very frugal last year and I'm literally paying for it now. Does the BBB have any advice on how I can get myself out of this mess?
Boy, I sure can relate to the post-holiday bills. Seems they creep up on you when you find yourself in a comfortable spot. But this just may be the time to get you back to basics financially.
We often find ourselves juggling bigger than expected bills after the holiday season. If you didn't keep a close eye on your spending and credit card use, now is the time to take stock of your financial situation and find a plan to live within your means.
The starting point should be sitting down and writing out what funds you have coming in. Think of salary, child support, interest income or stock dividends as examples.
You will also want to keep track of how you are spending your money for a few weeks to find out exactly where your money is going. Keep in mind some costs like rent, car payments and utilities cannot be trimmed.
But you will find that the things that you can cut back on will be simple. Take your lunch to work instead of eating out. Ask yourself if you really need that extra cell phone or computer. Once you distinguish your "wants" from your "needs," you can easily see where to cut back.
Often, taking a part-time job, turning a hobby into a business or holding yard sales to rid yourself of unwanted household goods can be great starting points to generating extra revenue.
If you find that none of these solutions will help because you may be in much more serious debt, consider contacting a nonprofit credit counseling agency such as Clearpoint Financial, which partners with the BBB on consumer spending issues and concerns.
When you get to a comfortable place financially, take some time to create a plan where you are able to sock some money away in a savings account or emergency fund.
Smart saving strategies include:
* Pay yourself first, putting a small amount aside every week. Even $10 a week will grow to more than $500 by the end of the year.
* Build up an emergency fund equal to at least three months' worth of income.
* Take advantage of employee benefit plans, such as 401(k) retirement savings plans. These plans allow you to save money before taxes, and many employers match at least part of your contributions.
* Be smart when you choose a savings account. Shop around for the best rates; consider fees and other features.
One final tip: Don't just set up a budget and forget it. Review it regularly to see if you're still on track. If you're finding it hard to meet your goals, you may need to revise the budget to accommodate your needs.
-- Joey Fernandez is assistant director of business services for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or firstname.lastname@example.org. These are her opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.