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Each year thousands of us fall into this pattern: we spend and spend, buying the gifts we think our loved ones need for the holidays. Then we find ourselves surrounded by unopened boxes, torn wrapping paper and – you guessed it – panic over how we’ll pay off the debt or pay our bills in January.

There is a way to manage your spending and still give the gifts you want to those you love. Every holiday season, we’re confronted with a waterfall of advertisements and messages that tell us one thing: spend. It’s great to buy gifts for all your relatives and friends, and maybe even a little something for yourself. Unfortunately, many of us find that our desire to give great gifts doesn’t quite match up with what’s in our wallets. With planning and wisdom, there is a way to balance your holiday spending and avoid the post-holiday financial “hangover” and stress.

Here are eight tips for avoiding the post-holiday financial “hangover.”

  1. Create a Budget. Hopefully, you already have a budget for your income and expenses. If not, now might be a time to make it a matter of the heart. It’s important to have a separate budget for holiday spending – know exactly how much you can afford to spend without breaking the bank. Be cautious when estimating how much you can spend on credit, and utilize methods like layaway. Most importantly, don’t delay the consequences of a purchase and get yourself into trouble with a financial holiday hangover.
  2. Make a List. Check it twice. Know exactly who you are going to buy gifts for and the exact amounts you are going to spend. Having some form of guidance can help you avoid unnecessary spending or other pitfalls holiday shoppers find themselves in.
  3. Start early. Many shoppers kickoff with Black Friday (or Small Business Saturday, or Cyber Monday) but it’s also helpful to plan way, way ahead and purchase gifts throughout the deal. A truly wise shopper is always on the lookout for good opportunities. This is another reason why some stores bringing back layaway can be so helpful. Buying gifts at the last minute isn’t just stressful – it can also mean missing out on great deals leading up to the holidays.
  4. Buy Items in Bulk. Small gifts like gloves can be purchased in packs. I’m sure it isn’t news, but when it comes to bulk items; the more you buy the less it will cost you – a great tip for the smaller gifts, for popcorn tins or stocking stuffers.
  5. Making gifts yourself can be a satisfying experience that brings one back to the reason for the season. It really is the thought that counts and the Internet are full of great Do-It-Yourself gift ideas that can add meaning to the holidays. In this economic climate, more people are baking, making crafts or even giving the gift of homemade coupons. If your spouse hates doing the dishes, give him or her a set of “Get out of Dishes Free” cards.
  6. Don’t Shop for Yourself. Now more than ever it’s important to stay within your budget limits. So many shoppers set out with no list in mind and come home with bags full of gifts… for themselves. We do tend to buy for others based on what we like, so if you fall into the “I want” category, it’s best to follow step #1 and tackle the list. Remember, it’s not about you. At least, not ALL about you. If there’s something you’re dying to give yourself this year, make sure it fits into the budget plan – and that there’s still room for everyone else.
  7. Do a Gift Exchange. Secret Santas and White Elephants aren’t just for workplace Christmas parties anymore. With wallets being slim all around this Christmas, organize a gift exchange within your own family so that everyone purchases one or two gifts instead of buying for everyone. These exchanges can be a real “bang for your buck,” especially when combined with a DIY gift.
  8. Coupons, coupons, coupons. Being a wise shopper means being on the lookout for coupons and catalog savings online and offline. There are tons of blogs and blotters that keep up with great deals that will continue through the rest of the month. Taking the time to search, clip or print can mean big savings, and a happy holiday all around.

These eight tips are good rules to live by for holiday spending, but also remember this: the amount of money you spend this season is equated with how much you love. Find ways to stretch your dollars, but also make sure you take time to cherish moments with those you love – because those memories will last much longer than any technical gadget, stocking stuffer or crumbling fruitcake.