From gifts and travel expenses to decorations and high energy bills, the holiday season is the peak time of year for spending.

A recent survey found that a quarter of Americans expect to go into debt during the holidays. While most Americans will put holiday expenses on a credit card, 1 in 10 expect to take out a loan to cover holiday expenses.

While the holidays are supposed to be a fun time for friends and family, it doesn’t have to be as expensive as you think. It’s great to be in a giving mood, but by overspending, you’ll be gifting the banks and credit card companies more than anyone.

Here’s how you can spend less and stress less this holiday season.

1. Set a budget

Decide how much you can afford to spend this holiday season first. It might change your plans, but it’s important to be realistic on how much you can spend.

This money should be extra, not your emergency fund, investment accounts, or what you need to pay for food, shelter, and other necessities.

If you don’t have any discretionary money, consider other gift options, such as your time, love, skills, and hard work. Money and consumer goods are probably the least valuable thing you can give. We’re sure you can think of something.

Organize your budget into separate categories. For example, it may look something like this:

Total = $800

Travel = $300

Presents: $250

Decorating: $100

Food/Drink/Entertainment: $150

If you’re not sure where to begin, look back at last year’s bank statements for a starting point. This will tell you what your holiday expenses were last year.

Once you have a set amount you’d like to spend on gifts, break it up by each person on your list. Coming up with a dollar amount for each person is a great way to stay on budget. Make sure you take this list with you when you go shopping and avoid the temptation to make exceptions.

Take advantage of holiday deals, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. You can avoid the lines by ordering online.

For acquaintances, colleagues, teachers, and other people on your list, consider a thoughtful card instead. An expensive gift is probably too much.

2. Track Spending

An easy way to track spending is by using one or two credit cards so all you have to do is check your credit card statement, which you should be doing anyway.

While it’s easy to overspend using credit cards, they offer more consumer protection and rewards than cash or debit. You just want to keep careful track of your spending, which you can do with mobile alerts from your bank.

As you spend money for the holidays, make sure you are subtracting what you spend from your budget so you have an updated amount. If you end up underspending, great job! You can use that money on another category or put it towards your savings, retirement, or debt.

Keep in mind that if you don’t pay your credit card statement in full every month, any money that gets carried over is subject to high interest rates, usually wiping out any rewards you may have earned. If you already have a high credit card balance, sticking to a cash budget is probably better. Learn how to reduce your credit card debt.

3. Lessen the Stress

You can reduce holiday stress by planning and budgeting. Take advantage of sales throughout the year and get your holiday preparation done over time. Set aside a little money each month so you have your holiday budget saved up for next year.

And don’t make the mistake of confusing material things for holiday happiness. According to research by Tim Kasser and Ken Sheldon, the more people focused the holiday season around materialistic aims, the less they were focused on spiritual aims. More happiness was reported when the focus was on family and spiritual activities.

How to Avoid Overspending During the Holidays

It’s easy for holiday spending to get out of control. Consider gifts that cost less but mean more. Are you good with your hands? Are you an artist? Can you write a poem or make a video? Can you teach someone a skill? Is there a beautiful photo you can frame? Can you offer babysitting or petsitting services?

Think outside of the box and focus on the things that mean the most to you and your family.

If debt is eating away at your financial future, contact the debt specialists at DebtBlue for a free consultation. When you work with DebtBlue, you are guaranteed to save money or there is no cost to you.