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First of all, everyone reading this should get a sense of how much debt is “too much.” The basic rule of thumb to decide whether or not you are overspending on your credit cards is if you have accumulated debt that will take you longer than a month to repay. According to Consumer Reports, in 2010 shoppers intended to spend an average of $700 during the holidays. When all was said and done, however, the average amount spent in 2010 per consumer was over $800. Furthermore, shoppers who made most of their purchases using plastic spent closer to $900!

There are definitely some methods to employ to keep your spending in check this time of year. Even though the holiday shopping season is in full swing it is never too late to take pause to protect yourself from overspending.

Channel Santa and Make a List

Write down everyone you would like to purchase a gift for and write down the gift you have in mind and its approximate cost. Be sure to include any secret santa obligations, teacher gifts, end-of-year tips for people like doormen or nannies, postage costs if you will be mailing anything and entertaining costs if you intend to throw a party. Now add it all up and see what you’ve got. Is it too much? Trim expenses before you hit the stores. Determine a maximum amount you are able to spend and stick to it – whittle down costs somehow. Keep in mind that a thoughtful gift does not have to be an expensive one. DIY when it is appropriate by baking cookies or treats and packaging them in a cute, reusable container. If you can afford to, factor a small cushion into your budget for slight overspending or in case you see something for yourself that you simply must have while you are out and about.

Discipline, Discipline, Discipline

Make copies of your list and keep one on you at all times. Cross off the people and gifts from your list as you purchase them. Look for items priced at what you estimated or under – resist the temptation to spend more on things needlessly. If you slip up and overspend or give in to making costly impulse purchases, don’t panic. You can return the unnecessary items. Realize, too, that you can always scale down your spending as you go along and change your mind about what to give whom if you see a more affordable option along the way.

No matter what, do not be lured into opening up a store credit card account, no matter how much of a discount they are extending. While it might seem savvy to take advantage of the savings being offered, store credit cards typically carry exorbitantly high APR’s and come with low spending limits – both which could get you into trouble and cause your credit score to suffer as a result.

Bargain Shop on the Internet

When shopping online, you are able to easily compare prices while skirting sales pressure. You can also utilize reliable deal sites that may be offering tremendous discounts on items on your list. Keep an eye out for promotional coupon codes and bonuses such as free shipping.

Another way to save this season is to cut back on your own discretionary spending by spending evenings at home with loved ones, eating in, renting movies or reading.

Remember: eliminating some of your holiday expenses means eliminating holiday stress as well!