It's a holiday season tradition that you don't want to observe. Many consumers spend more than they can afford, often racking up huge credit card balances.
But there's no need to exit the season of giving in worse financial shape than when it began. That's a lesson Suki Eleuterio learned after spending recent years stretching her finances to buy holiday gifts.
''I found myself just swamped in debt and trying to pay off bills from last Christmas and the Christmas before,'' said Eleuterio, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The marketing and public relations executive resolved this year to control spending, an effort that has her on track to pay off $10,000 in credit card and student loan debt by year's end.
For the holidays, Eleuterio, 30, plans to spend about one-quarter of the $300 to $400 she shelled out last year on gifts. And she's avoiding credit cards.
Here are some tips for managing your holiday season spending:
Draw up a budget — Santa makes his list and checks it twice. More holiday season shoppers should be as thorough. Establish a budget that lays out how much you plan to spend on each person on your list. Then stick to it.
''That way you're not walking around the mall with a credit card with a $20,000 limit, window shopping, with no plan, no strategy, and no discipline,'' said John Ulzheimer, of Credit Sesame, a credit management website. He also suggests capping your gift budget at a level that won't jeopardize your other financial obligations.
Avoid the credit trap —
Unless you plan to pay your holiday charges in full by the due date, avoid using credit.
You'll pay more in the long-run and carrying higher balances for several months could lower your credit score, making it more expensive to refinance your home, buy a car or qualify for other loans.
Cash in rewards —
Some cards offer cash back, credits against your balance or even special deals to buy gift items from a points redemption store. Major card issuers such as American Express, Chase, Citi, and Discover offer some type of points reward program.
Begin saving early —
Once you pay off this season's purchases, start paying into a holiday savings account for next year. Eleuterio began saving for the holidays a few weeks ago, setting aside about $25-$50 a paycheck.
Give of yourself —