It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of holiday shopping, but it's not always as easy to foot the bill.
The National Retail Federation says consumers plan to spend an average of $935.58 during the holiday shopping season - the second highest level on record. Whether that is a little or a lot for you, we have some expert tips on how to find a comfortable spending level and stick to it this year:
Be honest with yourself about your financial situation before you begin.
If you are already struggling to pay bills or carrying debt, you probably shouldn't take on more.
Avoid extreme measures to pay for the holidays. A recent survey of more than 1,000 parents by T. Rowe Price found that while the bulk save for the holidays throughout the year, about a quarter have at some point pulled money from their retirement account, emergency fund or taken a payday loan to cover holiday spending.
Not sure where you stand? The National Foundation for Credit Counseling has a website that can help you assess your financial well-being before you start to buy at www.MyHolidayCheckUp.org .
Start by saying "no" to some of the more costly holiday traditions that might bust the budget, said Bruce McClary of NFCC. It can be hard to challenge those expectations, but it will be even harder to dig yourself out of a financial hole.
Parents have a particularly hard time when it comes to their kids, said Marty Allenbaugh, a financial planner at T. Rowe Price. He said that parents sometimes find it easier to get everything on a child's wish list rather than have a more challenging conversation about wants and needs.
This is a big mistake as these talks can help them develop a better understanding about money. That doesn't mean you have to be a scrooge though. "It's OK to splurge a little, but just don't go overboard at the expense of your own well-being," Allenbaugh said.
Set and stick to a holiday spending budget.
The first part is easy: figure out how much you want to spend and keep track of your expenses as you go. The second part is harder: sticking to this once you are in the store or online and get excited about the deals. To combat this, Heather Battison of TransUnion suggests writing your budget and shopping list out and carrying it with you or putting it on your smartphone as a reminder.
Credit cards are one of the most popular ways to pay for holiday gifts and that's fine, unless you cannot pay it off immediately. Think twice before accepting the offer for a store card at checkout, as those often have very high interest rates. They also have low spending limits, which can increase your utilization rate — the amount of available credit that you use. And that can hurt your credit score.