Credit Cards and Christmas.

For those households that carry credit card debt, the average debt for 2015 is estimated at over $15,000 per household. 

According to the American Research Group, Inc., shoppers around the country say they are planning to spend an average of $882 for gifts this holiday season, up from $861 last year.

If you’re worried about increasing your credit card debt and spending too much headed into the holidays, here are three simple steps to prevent stress in January when the bills come rolling in:

  1. Make a budget. List out every person you need to get a gift for and set a spending limit for each person. A quick spreadsheet will manage the budget and act as your Christmas list when you go shopping. Remember to keep track of your spending as you go. I recommend keeping this spreadsheet active from year to year and just making modifications right before the holiday shopping begins.
  2. Reevaluate what brings you joy. Keep in mind that the holidays are about building memories with family and not about the amount of gifts given. One thoughtful gift is always more appreciated than lots of meaningless plastic from China. Many of us have way more than we need, so think about doing some giving to those less fortunate in a way that holds special meaning for you. For example, I know a family who spent time during the holidays with their son in the emergency room. They now bring gifts and needed items to this hospital every holiday season. Spending less on gifts and more on time with family, friends, and giving builds the spirit and combs down holiday spending.
  3. Use your credit card. What? Yes. This helps consumers to maintain or build up credit score ratings. Additionally, savvy consumers have a credit card that pays dividends in cash, merchandise or airline rewards. I am not a believer in carrying around a big wad of cash. The key to this plan is to only charge the amount you have in cash set aside for your holiday spending budget. If you don’t have the cash to pay it off next month, don’t use the card(s).