What do you need to do? 6 things
1. Play Santa: Santa makes a list and checks it twice, while most shoppers just go to the mall and say "Ooooh, Suzie would love that!" Shopping without a Christmas list causes you to forget some people and over-buy for others. Write down all the people that you normally give holiday gifts to and what you think they'd like. And think broadly about gifts -- particularly if you're on a budget.
Would your friends with small children prefer that you promise to babysit, rather than buy them something--particularly for those tough-to-get-a-sitter-nights like New Year's Eve? Would your parents prefer an evening out on the town vs. the gadgets and bath salts that you normally buy? If you spend more time, you'll spend less cash. Thoughtful gifts can be inexpensive.
And, of course, bring the shopping list with you when you go to the mall, so you can tick off presents as you go.
2. Troll for Coupons: The advent of discount buying sites like Groupon and LivingSocial give you the ability to buy dinners; spa treatments; hotel stays and hundreds of other gifts for pennies on the dollar. You get credit for the whole $50 gift certificate even when it only cost you $25. If you're buying for out-of-town friends, sign up to see the "daily deals" in their locations, as well as yours.}
3. Price-Check: Before you head to the mall, check prices for the items on your list. This is particularly important if you're shopping for big-ticket items that are likely to go on sale. The reason: Retailers sometimes overprice items, so they can make mark-downs look compelling. You get fooled thinking you're getting a bargain on a $1,000 television that's marked down to $500, for example, when another store might have that same t.v. for $500 at regular price and mark it down to $350. If you haven't price-compared in advance, you might think those are two different t.v. sets, when it's the same product but a different retail strategy.
4. Make a budget: Having a gift list and doing some advance price-checking will make it easy to figure out how much you're going to spend. Once you've added up the rough cost of what's on your list, consider whether this total is an amount you could pay off by February or March. If not, consider reviewing the list again to see if there are ways to nip back the budget.
5. Confess. If you can't afford to keep up with the normal state of gift giving, don't be afraid to confess your financial constraints to your family and friends. In tight years like these, they might welcome spending limits. And if you have friends who care more about the gift than the giver, ask yourself whether they friends worth going into hock for.
6. Shop together: Joseph Grenny, co-author of "Influencer: The Power to Change Anything" has done some interesting research on the things that might cause us to adhere to -- or bust -- a budget. The biggest factor? Friends.
The people we hang out with fall into two categories -- friends and accomplices, he adds. Friends support you, either actively or passively (by setting a good example and not tempting you to cheat) when you're trying to make a healthy change, like staying on a diet or budget. Accomplices don't have that kind of restraint, and really don't want you to either. It makes them look bad.
If you have friends, willing to help you stay on a budget, shop together. Leave your accomplices at home.
More on MoneyWatch
5 Ways to Get Deals on Dining Out
Beware Secret Accounts and Clothing in the Trunk
Need to Keep Resolutions? Dump Your Friends
Early warning signs of debt trouble
Can You Pass a Money Stress-Test?
Shop Now to Save Your Sanity
7 Things to Buy After Christmas