"Santa with a Credit Card"According to the National Consumer Council, 40-50% of all retail sales occur during the months of November and December. This means that now is the time of year that the malls are crowded and shoppers are spending money. Fighting the crowds and making sure not to overspend can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few tips to help you enjoy the holidays without having to go into debt.

Create a Budget & Make a List

The key to successful and cost-effective shopping is good planning. As with most things financial, the place to start is to create a simple household budget. Maintaining a budget and planning for the holidays well in advance will help insure that you have the resources you need when the time comes to go shopping, and it will help to keep you from overextending yourself when you get caught up in the excitement of holiday shopping.

Before you make your first purchase, make a list of everyone you need to buy for and how much you plan to spend on each person in light of your budget – don’t forget co-workers, teachers, bus drivers, newspaper carries, and the babysitter. Once you have your list, stick to it! Staying focused on what you need to buy and knowing how much you have to spend will make shopping excursions fun rather than a chore.

Shopping trips should not be haphazard, so never leave the house without a shopping list. A good list minimizes confusion, especially if you intend to make purchases at multiple stores. And when you get to a store, only go to the departments and aisles that have the items on your list. Avoiding detours to other departments will save both time and money.

Too Many Gifts & Not Enough Money

If your budget is tight, you may have to come up with ways to limit the number of gifts you give. By limiting gift buying, it’s easier to stay within your budget.

If you have a large family or traditionally exchange gifts with extended family, it might be time to start a new tradition. This year have a “family gift exchange” in which each person draws the name of one person for whom to buy a gift. You can even put a cap on the amount to spend.

Only buy gifts for close family and special friends. For more distant relationships, set boundaries. Instead of buying gifts, give baked goods and treats to neighbors, teachers, and the paperboy. Or instead of exchanging gifts with friends and neighbors, get together at someone’s house to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate or glass of wine and wrap presents together.

Cash or Credit

One way to save money is to make a commitment to pay cash for holiday gifts. Set specific amounts that you can afford to spend on each person on your gift list, and then only carry enough cash to cover the cost of the gifts you intend to buy on each shopping trip. Having a limited supply of funds and a set maximum to spend on each gift will help “tone down” your spending and prevent post-holiday debt worries.

Another way to save is to use your credit cards like cash by keeping a running tally of your credit card spending. When you come home from a day of shopping, immediately subtract the amount you’ve charged from your checking account balance to ensure that you’ll have enough money in the account to pay the bill when it arrives.

Instead of using credit to fund all of your holiday purchases this year, try using credit cards only for limited expenses – for example, when shopping online, when shopping over the phone, or when traveling.

Happy Shopping! And remember . . . the things you buy for others for one day are not nearly as important as what you do for others the rest of the year.

Paul Vazquez lives in Florida with his wife and four children. He is the Director of Media Relations at Keycode.com , an online discount and promotion code company.

This article is excerpted from the Holiday Gift Guide for 2011 . Be sure and check it out and read other articles about the holidays. It’s also great to add to your online shopping experience!