The holiday season is a leading cause of debt for many people.  It’s easy to get caught up in all of the great sales and the desire to make loved ones happy with material things.

The truth is, you don’t have to get into debt to enjoy the holidays.  Put away the plastic, and try these ideas:

Set a budget. Set a maximum dollar amount you can afford to spend on Christmas gifts.  Note that I said “can afford” not “want to afford.”

Start saving now. There are still several more paydays before the holidays, so start putting away the extra money now.  Look around your home for extra cash – gather up all your loose coins, sell a few items, or find a way to make some quick money (babysitting, pet-sitting, personal shopping, etc).  Put all that found money toward your Christmas shopping.

Make a list.  Spend some time making a list of all of the people you want to buy gifts for.   Then make a list of their interests.  If you know these two things, you’ll be able to make smarter choices with your gift purchases.  There’s nothing harder on a budget than realizing you’ve forgotten someone and dashing off to buy something at full price.

Shop all year round to get the best deals.   Watch for end-of-season clearance sales for special deals and catalog overstocks.  Procrastinators can still get some great deals in the final weeks before Christmas, but you’re taking a risk that the selection may not be as good.

Use the internet to find the deals.  There are hundreds of great blogs that do all the deal hunting for you – just search for what you want and you’ll probably find a good deal.  Be sure to check out company Face book pages and Twitter profiles because many companies are using social media to promote deals.

Consider a homemade Christmas.  Sometimes the best gifts are those that are homemade – such as food, crafts, or photo gifts.  The more creative you are, the better!