How to stop stressing over holiday spending

Dec 12, 2014 11:03 AM by CBS News

If you catch yourself feeling unusually moody this holiday season, check your spending habits.

On average, each American household with a credit card carries more than $15,000 in credit card debt, and total U.S. consumer debt (including mortgages, auto and student loans as well as credit cards) is an astronomical $11.4 trillion according to

If you are in over your head, the stress of spending what you don't really have may lead to an array of physical and emotional symptoms including anxiety, anger, depression and headaches, to name a few. The Mayo Clinic also points to stress as a culprit behind overeating and drug or alcohol abuse. During the holiday season, these temptations are readily available and can inhibit good judgment and willpower.

While it may be tempting to just give in to all the pressures and blow through your hard-earned cash this season, financial expert and best-selling author Barbara Stanny says there are ways to handle it more wisely. Setting a few boundaries for yourself before tackling your holiday shopping list can save your sanity.

"The best place to start is to plan ahead," she told CBS News.

Stanny suggests sitting down and assessing the reality of your finances before hitting the stores. Have a conversation with your significant other and then make a list, writing down the names of the people you are shopping for. After making your list, make any necessary cuts to keep yourself on budget. Stanny advises carrying your final list around with you at all times so that you're less tempted to pick up impulse buys.

While this approach may sound a bit out of sync with the spirit of generous holiday giving, it may give you the strength to resist sales racks and keep you in control.

The siren call of shopping is hard to fight, especially when everyone else is doing it. The National Retail Federation expects hundreds of billions of dollars in retail sales in November and December.

If you struggle with maintaining control when you shop, enlist a friend's support. Stanny recommends leaving the credit card at home and taking the exact amount of cash you budgeted yourself. If shopping online, make sure to compare deals to get the best price.

If shopping really stresses you out, an alternative to buying into holiday materialism is to plan a volunteering experience with your loved ones. Stanny says the holidays are the perfect time to teach your children values.

"This is a great time to really educate your children and get them aware of good spending habits. So maybe instead of buying presents for everyone, go to the homeless shelter on Christmas Day and volunteer to do something," she says.

If you go overboard, don't punish yourself unmercifully, Stanny says. Berating yourself for not sticking to your budget will make you miserable and not accomplish anything. If returns are not an option, Stanny's advice for those who splurge too much is to "simply cut back on your January/February spending so you can pay off credit cards as quickly as possible." offers tips and a helpline for those in debt and feeling symptoms of debilitating stress.

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