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preet banerjee

All the Hallowe'en goodies are in the stores right now and while a few retailers have already jumped the gun, you know what they'll be promoting next: Christmas.

While we're thinking ahead, let's take it one step further into January. That's when consumers get hit with a credit hangover. It happens every year, and every year we resolve to do it differently, perhaps as part of our slew of New Year's resolutions.

Just like last year.

The time to plan for holiday spending isn't after the holidays, it's now. If you want to avoid the money migraine, you've got two months to save up for your expenses. If you can put away $200 each month, your 2012 holiday budget is $400.

Some people will find that a pretty easy target to blow through - especially if they have a big family. But if you can't get the money together to avoid carrying an increased balance on your plastic, you can't afford it.

The trick is to figure out where, and how, you can trim the fat.

Sit down and create a budget for holiday spending using previous years as a guideline. Write down how much you typically spend on decorations, hosting get-togethers, presents, travel, etc. (Make sure to track the actual expenses to make it easier for next year, too.)

Now start cutting as if you just completed a leveraged buyout like Mitt Romney.

Reducing the cost of gift-giving is going to be a big saver. You and your spouse can eliminate spending cash on presents for each other - if you're both fed up about your money situation. Give each other something that doesn't cost money. I'll leave that to your imagination.

Cutting gift expenses can be trickier for other people, especially children. But if you have a big family gathering with lots of children involved, consider the "one gift per child" option. With economic times being tough, many families have chosen to forgo gifts for adult family members. They might also set a cap on spending for all the children. For example, if you had four family units and six children altogether, each family might contribute $50 which would then be divided into $33.33 per child for a present.

How do you start that conversation? Send them a link to this column and pin it on me.

Holiday spirit isn't about keeping up with the Joneses. You should never borrow money (and carry a balance) to pay for the holidays. I'm not trying to be a Scrooge, but rather a realist. There are many families too proud to admit that the one-gift-per-child strategy would help them out this holiday season. But the sooner you implement drastic measures, the sooner you can make drastic improvements to your finances.

The alleviated financial stress will help you enjoy what's really important about the holidays: simply spending quality time with your family.

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