Shop smart this holiday season

(CNN/KYTX) - For some holiday shoppers, the spirit of the season may lead to overspending and add up to a less-than-happy new year.

Many Americans won't start the holiday season with a clean financial slate. If credit card debt is already mounting, leave the plastic alone.

That's how Pam Gowers shops during the holidays.

"I try to only use my debit and cash. And, really stick to my plan."

Credit card expert Beverly Harzog says that may mean cutting back this year.

"Maybe you can't do what you really want to do during the holidays in terms of everything you want to give your kids or your friends, but if you stick with cash your situation at least won't get any worse."

Sticking to cash on hand requires a more disciplined approach- and a budget. In addition to gifting family and friends, factor in others that are often overlooked, like tips for babysitters and hairdressers.

"And then, you also have to factor in the gift wrap and the bags and cards and tissue paper." says Gowers.

"It adds up."

"It does." she says. 

Harzog urges shoppers to be honest about that budget and don't rely on potential money, like a holiday bonus, that may not materialize.

"Stick with what you know you have in your accounts at the moment, your current cash flow, and plan your budget around that. That way you won't have any unpleasant surprises. The last thing you want is to be in the debt when 2014 rolls around."

If a large purchase is going on a credit card, make a smart choice. Use a rewards card that will earn points, miles or cash back. And resist being tempted by those deals that promise instant savings by opening a store credit card. They tend to have higher interest rates, meaning you may still be paying for this year's gifts, next year.


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