Story last updated at 12/10/2008 - 11:29 am
You've clipped coupons and whittled down your grocery list to exclude stuff you generally throw out.
You allowed yourself just one new outfit in the past three months.
And you've bundled your trips so you're burning less gasoline each week.
So don't blow it now.
You know what I'm talking about. Don't let the lure of bargains and the desire to give your family everything on their holiday wish lists make you undo a year of good financial behavior.
I've had conversations with lots of people who assure me that they will be practical this year.
"We're not going overboard this year like we always do," said a friend whose daughter owns every Bratz doll made, complete with accessories.
But the rush of spending and all the bargains retailers are rolling out this season can make even the most stalwart among us reach for the MasterCard.
A recent survey commissioned by Coinstar (you know those machines in the grocery store that count your change and give you paper cash) shows that 23 percent of Americans said they use cash more often to pay for purchases compared to one year ago.
When citing reasons, 84 percent said this was to help control spending and manage their budgets. Six years ago, when poll respondents who used cash more often were asked the same question, only 46 percent said they were using cash for that reason.
And even though there's nothing wrong with using credit cards if you pay them off at the end of the month, most of us don't have that kind of discipline.
We all know we're going to do some shopping in the coming weeks, just keep your wits about you.
The American Bankers Association Education Foundation and getsmartaboutcredit.com partners recently released a guide to help consumers use credit wisely and avoid a holiday hangover.
"Basic holiday expenses can put a strain on consumers' finances - especially in an already stressed economy," said Laura Fisher, the ABA Education Foundation's director. "Being a savvy spender is key to avoiding the debt of Christmas past and having a financially happy new year."
Here are some helpful tips:
Create a budget.
Before you start your holiday shopping, develop a realistic budget. Be as detailed as possible. Look at past banking and credit card statements as well as receipts from last year to gauge your holiday spending.
Be a Scrooge.
The fewer lines of credit you have, the easier it is to keep track of bills and pay off debt on time. Use caution when you consider applying for additional cards.
Don't let the Grinch steal your holiday.
Beware of fraud or suspicious offers to buy products. Do not enter your credit card number unless you are certain the Web site is trustworthy. Keep receipts and billing statements to check for unauthorized charges. Shred documents that contain personal information.
Do you hear what I hear?
Understand the terms of your credit card. Credit cards are great financial tools when used with care.
Holiday shopping can be overwhelming and sale items can make it difficult to say no. Resist impulse shopping and stick to your budget.
Arlinda Smith Broady is business editor of the Savannah Morning News. She can be reached at arlinda.broady@ savannahnow.com.