11/23/2011 11:22 am ET

31 Days of Debt: Why Thanksgiving to Christmas Could Ruin 2012 for You

For many families, the Thanksgiving weekend launches a season of fun and family and festivities. There are Thanksgiving events, Black Friday shopping, holiday parties, school concerts and church events... and it all culminates 31 days later when you and your family sit around the Christmas tree and you tear open gifts and eat too much chocolate.

It's fun. But it's also expensive. EXTREMELY expensive. For Thanksgiving, you have to stock up on wine and turkey and chocolate cream pie. For Black Friday you end up staying out for almost the entire weekend to buy ridiculously cheap stuff. For the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas you've got new outfits to buy for holiday parties and plenty of food to buy for all of those events. By Christmas, your credit card is smoking from frequent use.

It's a time when our spending is higher than any other throughout the year. Our income doesn't change during this time and that's why we end up paying these seasonal purchases off throughout the spring. As you approach the next 31 days, follow these tips to help you manage your spending -- ultimately to manage your debt -- and to ensure that you don't trade short-term holiday spending for long-term prosperity.

  • Set a budget. We love to be generous during Christmas but don't confuse generosity with excess. Identify the expenses you'll incur for the next 30 days and set a budget. Get your whole family involved in this to make sure that everyone is on board.
  • Share the load. If you have people over for Thanksgiving, holiday meals, family events, etc., ask guests to bring part of the meal -- the wine or salads or dessert.
  • Get organized. Keep track of your receipts to make sure that you stick to your budget and to help you in the spring as you review your receipts against your credit card statements.
  • Pay cash. Give yourself a gift that will last all year next year by paying cash. (Remember: A great deal that you buy with a credit card today but don't pay off for a couple of months is no longer a great deal because you'll end up paying the credit card company just as much or more than you saved on the discounted price).
  • Talk to your kids about Christmas. Invest some time with your family this season to remind them that this is a season where we spend time together and give to others, and that we don't measure our enjoyment of Christmas by the number of wrapped gifts under the tree. (This is not only a great way to help you reduce how much you spend over the holiday season, it also helps to set your kids up for success when they have their own families).

The 31 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are a lot of fun. But the debt you can incur during this time can haunt you for months (or even years). But by following a few simple debt-reducing rules, you'll enjoy your Christmas season even more, PLUS, you'll ensure a happier new year.

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