By Doug Warshauer

"holiday budgetting"Everybody spends more money around the holidays.  Buying gifts for our friends and family at the same time we enjoy a holiday vacation frequently stretches our budgets beyond the breaking point.  The unhappy gift we give to ourselves: a mountain of credit card debt.

This year, let’s get a jump on our New Year’s resolution by resolving NOW not to take a trip up that mountain.  Credit card debt makes the holidays doubly costly, forcing us to pay for those gifts and vacations again and again in the form of high interest rates.  Fortunately, with a little advance planning you can make it through the holidays without loading up your credit cards.  Here are five tips to help you achieve that goal:

1. Start with a budget for all your gifts.  Decide what you can afford to spend on everyone and stick to it.  Add up the total.  Can you afford that amount?  If not, decide how to cut back.

2. Don’t make major purchases that can be put off for a few months.  This isn’t the time to buy a new bed or to re-carpet the floors.  Wait until after the holidays when cash flow is less tight.

3. Don’t shop for yourself.  It can be tempting, as you are constantly in stores and every store advertises its “biggest ever” sale.  Remember, no deal is a good deal if you end up paying 18% interest on your purchase for years. 

4. Spend extra time trying to save money this time of year.  If you’re ever going to clip coupons, this is the time to do it. 

The little things you can do to eek out a few extra dollars matter in the holidays season.

5. Hunt for bargains on the internet.  Know what you want to buy?  You can find it cheaply by putting in the exact model number into Google.  You’ll find stores all over the country advertising that product, often with free shipping.  You can save hundreds of dollars using this method.

If you look at your budget and you think, even after using all five of these money saving techniques, you still might need to build up credit card debt to pay for your holiday spending, consider temporarily cutting back on your long-term savings contributions.  You can always make up those contributions later in the year when your cash flow is stronger.  Remember, a debt-free holiday season is the best gift you can give yourself!

Doug Warshauer is the author of the book If I’m So Smart…Where Did All My Money Go?: Balancing Your Financial Objectives for Lasting Wealth.  He offers free customizable spreadsheets to help you better manage your money at his website,