Uh-oh. Major holiday-debt hangover. You need relief, and it's not spelled R-U-N A-W-A-Y.

First, take comfort: You're not alone in your adrenaline-and-eggnog-fueled overspending.

Next, take the hit: Pay off your bills. Finally, pick up a pencil. Some preplanning can prevent a headache when New Year's 2008 whacks you on the noggin.- Tracy Staton



Jingle Bills

It is possible to pay off your holiday debt. Just grit your teeth and get started.

Make a chart. List each card, the balance owed, and the minimum payment due. Try not to faint.

Have a family meeting. Choose small spending cuts to make together - on movie and game rentals, restaurant meals, the daily latte, etc. - and apply the savings to your holiday debt. Possible bonus: losing holiday poundage along with the bills.

Put away the plastic. You can't pay your credit card bill off if you're still charging.

Use gift cards. Spend your holiday windfall on necessities. Sure, you wouldn't put toilet paper or laundry detergent on your wish list, but you probably didn't hope to end up in debt either.



Where's Santa When You Need Him?

-4 in 10 Number of consumers who have regrets about spending too much on gifts.

-More than $1,300 Amount put on credit cards between Thanksgiving and Christmas in the typical household.

-6 Number of months the average household spends paying off holiday bills.

-Nearly $400 Average budget override among holiday shoppers who exceed their spending plans.

-$457.4 billion Projected 2006 holiday spending, up 5 percent from 2005.

Sources: Family Credit Counseling, CardWeb.com, North Dakota State University, HSBC-North America, and National Retail Federation



Scrooge Lite

Next holiday season, make a budget and stick to it. (Easier said than done, right?) Here are a few suggestions.

1-What triggers your overspending? Last-minute buying, shopping therapy for holiday stress - whatever it is, figure it out, and plan how to avoid it this year.

2-When you budget, don't forget to include the costs of traveling, entertaining, shipping, decorating, and post-holiday-sale shopping.

3-Brainstorm less-expensive gift alternatives. Go beyond cookies and bread; the Center for a New American Dream has some great ideas in its "Simplify the Holidays" booklet (www.newdream.org). One to try: Record interviews with grandparents, aunts, and uncles, focusing on family history or on memories of the person who'll receive the recordings.

4-Buy gifts earlier in the year - but only if you can refrain from shopping around the holidays as well.

5-For more suggestions, get Consolidated Credit Counseling Service’s “Holiday Survival Guide” at www.consolidatedcredit.org and download Myvesta’s “How to Cut Your Holiday Bills in Half without Feeling like a Scrooge” at www.myvesta.org.