With the average consumer debt in New Brunswick inching toward $23,000, it's no wonder finances enjoy a prominent place in many New Year's resolutions.
Consumers' sense of urgency about getting their spending under control and debt paid off is especially sharp at this time of year, say financial advisers.
"They've typically spent a few more dollars than their usual budget in the November, December months," said Elke Gaudet, manager of financial planning for RBC in western New Brunswick.
"What are bills going to look like in January? How much money am I going to have left over after I finish paying for all those gifts?"
A recent report by Equifax Canada Inc., which specializes in consumer and commercial credit reporting, revealed that New Brunswick's average consumer debt now sits at $22,823 — a 4.8 per cent increase from the same period in 2015.
How to save
Gaudet said it's important to have financial goals, such as saving for a house or a trip. But consumers also need to set goals for how much they want to save and for how long.
And the goals should be written down.
"When you have a real goal in mind … that will give you a better idea of how much you're actually looking to save," Gaudet said.
She recommends people look at their spending habits over the past three months and highlight their fixed expenses, such as rent, phone bills and "nice to have" expenses, including coffee and eating out, and decide what needs to change.
'It's almost a fear or an avoidance, rather than dealing with it.' - Marissa Sollows
Sometimes money is too accessible, Gaudet said, so it might help to store money away in a tax-free savings account, where you can't withdraw funds.
She also recommends having a savings account that isn't linked to a debit card, or setting up the automatic transfer of payments on a regular basis.
"If you can't easily remove the funds, it makes it that much easier to not take it out," she said.
Fewer than half bother to budget
A 2014 Canadian financial capability survey, released by New Brunswick's Financial and Consumer Services Commission, found that only 41 per cent of Atlantic Canadians had a budget.
Canadians 18 to 24 years old and people over 70 were less likely to have a budget, and 36 per cent of Atlantic Canadians were having trouble keeping up with bills and payments.
Marissa Sollows, senior education co-ordinator with the New Brunswick commission, said budgeting is something a lot of people don't think about.
"On the list of things that sound like a fun way to spend your evening or your weekend ... budgeting doesn't land high at the top for a lot of people," she said. "It's almost a fear, or an avoidance, rather than dealing with it."
Leave credit cards at home
Sollows suggests consumers reconsider their use of credit and debit cards. It's a lot more difficult to part with cash in your wallet than to buy things with a credit or debit card.
If consumers kept the cards at home, they would be a lot more likely to save.
"You're not tempted to put it on the credit card," she said. "Because once that happens once, twice, three times you're really in a mess."
It's also important to make adjustments and be honest about current spending habits, which are subject to change depending on the year.
"Just saying, 'I'm going to spend less, or I'm going to save more'-- that's not good enough," she said. "It's too easy to ... let it slide."
Still, consumers shouldn't be afraid to treat themselves once in a while.
"Celebrate the wins," she said. "It's going to make it that much easier to stick to your goals."