Whoops! The Christmas Budget was Blown...Big

Last Updated Dec 22, 2010 2:44 PM EST

Retail sales have soared this holiday season, jumping more than 15% from year-ago levels. But we apparently didn't mean to do it.

According to a survey by CouponCodes4U, some 51% said they'd spent more this Christmas season than they planned. How much more? Hold onto your shopping bags.

34% said they's spent "almost double" what they'd budgetted.

18% said they spent three-times more.

12% said they spent four times as much as they'd planned.

7% said they were just a little over budget.

And...12% said they still weren't done shopping.

So what do you do if you blew the holiday budget -- big?

Plan
Take a look at the details of your credit card bills, adding up the minimum payments on each card. Figure out how much more than these minimums you can pay each month. Think you can't do more than the minimums? Check out some cost-saving ideas from my MoneyWatch colleague Farnoosh Torabi.
Prioritize
Now put the bills in order based on the interest rate charged on each card. You'll want to pay the minimum on every card, except the one with the highest interest rate. You'll sock all of your discretionary cash against that one card to pay it off first -- and preferably, fast.

Pick them off
Once you've paid off the highest rate card, take all your discretionary cash and do the same with the second-highest rate card. Keep going with this strategy until every credit card has a zero balance.

Prevent it from happening again
Are you going to have more willpower next holiday season? Probably not. But there's no reason to dig yourself a hole every time you go crazy at the mall. Once you're done paying off those holiday bills, put at least half of what you had been spending on paying off the credit cards into a dedicated savings account that you can tap next holiday season. Then you can spend without worrying about the debt hang-over in January.

Merry Christmas.

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