The content is accurate at the time of publication and is subject to change.

On the face of it, the holiday season is meant to be a time for joy, festivity, rejoicing, exchanging gifts, and sitting down to sumptuous dinners. However, when you peel back the wrapping paper and sneak a peek, you notice that there is an undercurrent of financial stress and emotional anxiety behind the holiday fervor.

Keeping up with the tradition of giving gifts and recreating a picture perfect holiday season can take a toll on the finances of the average American family. This is further aggravated by factors like poor money management, emotional spending, and last minute purchases. The statistics show that gifts bought on Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa can bite a whopping 4% out of your income annually. So, if the combined earnings of your family total around $50,000, you could very well be spending up to $2,000 on holiday shopping!

The biggest culprit that throws us headlong into a financial pit is failure to make a budget for the holidays. Only when December comes rolling around the corner is when most of us realize there isn’t enough money in our savings to cover necessary expenses. When pushed into a corner, our natural instinct is to pull out the plastic and begin charging. The reasoning being, "Enjoy in haste, regret at leisure." Before you know it, it`s the New Year and you are carrying the burden of your extravagances last year.

2011, however, promises to be different. An online poll conducted by MSN and CardRatings.com revealed that 44% of shoppers were planning to use cash instead of the plastic to pay for holiday shopping this year. Those relying solely on credit cards made up 36% of the 9,500 respondents, while a little more than 15% indicated they would fall back on their debit cards. Less than 1% was planning on using gift cards.

With the spending frenzy at an all time high, the question still remains whether shoppers will stick to their resolution of using cash and going easy on the credit. This is a question that even financial experts cannot answer with certainty. However, they do advise shoppers to approach holiday shopping in a systematic manner. First start by being realistic when you are making a shopping list, and follow up by creating a definite plan for your expenditures. If possible, cash in your reward points and turn them into gifts and presents.

In the end, try to work with the cash you have and avoid giving in to the temptation of using credit cards when you feel the crunch. This is the best way to deal with the post holiday season hangover that threatens to last well into the coming year, unless you are very, very careful.