12/05/2012 10:27 am ET

Don't Let Your Credit Cards Get Fat This Season

During this time of year, it can be easy to add an extra pound or two. You get offered another cookie and it's hard to say no. Or, at a family dinner, someone passes around the turkey for a fourth time and you decide that you don't want to have leftovers. Or at your holiday party, there's a buffet with ten of your favorite fried foods.

End result? A delicious Christmas... and a January filled with regret. Not only that, but you might end up feeling like you need to spend more time at the gym, and need to double your helping of celery for the rest of the year. Are those less-than-appealing activities in 2013 worth the brief and delicious pleasure in 2012?

It's exactly the same with your credit cards. Once Christmas season arrives, our cards come out of our wallets and purses and basically stay in our hand so we can buy buy buy when we see the perfect gift for someone. (Let's not forget the surprise gifts -- when your kid remembers that they need to bring a gift to school tomorrow for a gift exchange... oh, plus one for their teacher and one for each of their ten best friends).

As nice as all of that generosity is, it comes at a price: A very fat credit card bill. One that is bloated and out of shape and much bigger in January than it usually is.

It's not uncommon for people to spend money at Christmas... and then spend months paying that Christmas bill off -- sometimes almost doubling the expense after you factor in the high interest rates of credit cards over a couple of months! For example, a $1000 Christmas bill in January that doesn't get paid off and racks up 20 percent interest will cost more in February and even more by March! That's a lot of Christmas weight.

So what can you do before Christmas to help you avoid packing on the pounds of debt this year? Here are some tips:

• Set a budget for your gift giving. It's okay to be generous but make sure that you aren't over-extending yourself.
• Spread the cost over several credit cards to keep them all active and (if possible) to keep them all under 20 percent of the credit limit.
• Don't buy something just because it's on sale. If you can't afford it, the discount will be erased with the higher interest payments in the coming months.
• If you do go over your budget, don't wait until your credit card bill arrives in the mail to do something about it. Take action right now to get that debt paid down.

When it comes to holiday weight, a few poor choices over Christmas can lead to weeks or even months of unpleasant hardship, and it's exactly the same with the debt that you can incur over this holiday season.

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