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How to survive the holidays with your credit still intact

It's that time of year when people make various lists — which is great. What isn't so great is all the additions we make to those lists over the few weeks leading up to the holidays.

Those exceptions can really take a toll on our holiday spending. We keep thinking that it is only once a year, right? Unfortunately, for most of us, the spending is really not just once a year, and that December spending binge really puts us over the top on our spending plan.

Paying with credit card
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

If you don't want your credit card bills to take over your mailbox, make your plan now and focus on keeping that spending under control. Here are some tips on how to take control of your finances during the holidays and throughout the year.

Define your objectives. Decide how much money you will spend during the holidays, and put together your spending plan.

Be realistic. Don't set yourself up for failure. If you set your spending plan too low, you won't be able to stick to it. If you fail the first year, you may never be able to face your spending plan again.

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Reduce impulse buying. Many of us spend a lot on ourselves, especially during the holidays, because we spend more time in stores and keep seeing such "good deals." Sometimes we get caught up in that "one for you, one for me" thinking. Close your eyes and keep walking. It will probably be a better deal after the holidays, anyway.

Add up what you have spent and keep track of it. This is where most of us have difficulty, because if we know how much we have spent, it isn't as much fun. But the only way to stick to a plan is to understand where you are in your spending and where your dollars are going.

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Take advantage of the competition. All credit card companies offer the ability to transfer balances, offer low rates and so forth. If you are going to use credit, use it smart. Take advantage of the competition and transfer your balance to a card with a lower interest rate.

If possible, pay off those credit card bills every month or at least every few months. Don't let that debt get so high that you can't figure out when you will be able to pay it off.

With some good strategizing before the holidays, you can look forward to a debt-free future.

— By Diahann Lassus, president of Lassus Wherley