I don’t know about you, but I want to feel happy and carefree during the holiday season. However, this is not often the case. There’s always so much to do: buy gifts, wrap gifts, go to parties, bake, travel, visit family, etc.

I don’t know about you, but I want to feel happy and carefree during the holiday season.

Then there’s the spending problem. We’re expected to spend all our money on gifts and travel. We’re bombarded by commercials, ads, and beautiful storefronts. How do we fight against all that? Many of us don’t. In fact, debt counseling agencies see a 25% increase in people needing debt assistance in January and February. But this isn’t inevitable. Here are some ways to avoid the spending and debt trap that can swallow us during the holidays.

1. Open a savings account for gifts

It might be too late for this to go into effect this year, but you have plenty of time to save by next winter. Personally, I put money aside every month during the year to make sure I have enough money in savings when the holidays come around. I can also dip into this fund when there is a big birthday or anniversary. This has saved me a lot of heartache (and heartburn) when the time for spending comes; I don’t feel strapped for cash when I’m feeling generous.

2. Set a holiday spending budget (and stick to it)

You can’t set a spending budget if you don’t anticipate the specifics. Answer these questions: How many people do you want to buy gifts for? Roughly how much do you want to spend on each gift, per person? How much would you need to put aside each month to get to that amount by the holidays? Once you have that number (and consider budgeting in any travel costs that come with the holidays), you can figure out how much you need to save throughout the year.

3. Shop early

It might seem like there are great sales around the holidays (hello, Black Friday and Cyber Monday!), but that’s actually an illusion. Prices are gradually increased as the holidays near, and then cut to look like a “sale”. Keep track of things that you want to buy for your loved ones and pick them up throughout the year. Watch for sales that aren’t close to the holidays. This will probably limit impulse buys as well, since you know you’ve already taken care of the holiday shopping.

4. Use your skills!

Do you like knitting? Knit your loved ones a hat or gloves! Are you crafty? Make a scrapbook about your relationship with someone. We tend to overlook how wonderful it is to receive a handmade gift from someone we love. If you’re not great at making things, what else are you good at? Perhaps you can offer your services to people. Does your best friend hate cleaning and organizing, but you’re great at it? Give her a coupon for a free closet organizing session! The ideas are really endless.

5. Spend time together instead

There are definitely people in my life who I would rather spend a day with than receive a gift in the mail from. I’m sure there are people in your life who would appreciate that too. If you can’t afford to buy gifts for everyone you love, maybe you can plan a day together. Does your dad love to go bird watching? This year, make it your gift that you go with him one day.

For more tips on being an awesome gift-giver, check out my piece on The Financial Diet.