With holiday sales expected to reach $437.6 billion this year -- down from $441.97 billion -- retailers will be pulling out all the stops to get you to spend more money than you initially planned.
It's easy to get carried away with the spirit of the season and to overspend when shopping for gifts. Here are seven ways you can bust your budget without even trying.
1. Don't make a listAnd don't check it twice. If you don't know who you're shopping for or how much you're going to spend, you're basically playing Russian roulette with your finances -- maybe you'll have enough to cover your costs and maybe you won't.
"The easiest way to avoid overspending is to sit down and make a list of everyone you are going to buy a gift for," says Jan Dahlin Geiger, author of "Get Your Assets in Gear! Smart Money Strategies." "Decide first how much money you are willing to spend overall, then make an allocation by person."
Of course, you've got to stick to the list for it to work. If you find a great deal and can buy the perfect gift while spending less than your allotted amount on the person, don't rush to spend the money you saved -- consider yourself ahead of the game.
2. Act like Santa ClausSometimes we get carried away with the sprit of the season and start buying gifts for friends and relatives we haven't seen in years. Once you've made your list of people you want to buy gifts for, and the amount of money you intend to spend, don't change it.
Inevitably someone you didn't plan to buy a gift for will buy one for you, but, Geiger says, "Just because someone else gives you a gift doesn't mean you are obliged to reciprocate. If you feel strongly about doing something to acknowledge the generosity of others, come up with another way to do so that doesn't require spending a lot of money. Bake a huge batch of cookies or brownies and give them to those you feel obligated to give a gift to, but don't really want to."
Or head that problem off in the beginning by suggesting to friends and family members that you all refrain from exchanging gifts this year and plan to spend time together after the holidays instead.
3. Go overboard with gift cardsIf you think giving loved ones gift cards so they can find items that appeal to their own tastes seems like a great idea, you're not alone. "Many of us spend more on a gift card than we would otherwise because it says the dollar amount right on the card," says Sally Herigstad, author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills."
However, in these lean times, people are starting to cut back. According to Archstone Consulting in Stamford, Conn., sales of gift card purchases in 2009 will probably be flat or a bit lower than last year's, coming in at $24.9 billion.
Even still, with the average amount per card of $53, not only could you likely save money by finding a more sentimental -- and less expensive -- gift, you may save your loved ones money as well. According to Stored Value Solutions, 53 percent of gift card recipients spend more than the value of their cards and 20 percent pay retailers to reload the cards.
To find out more about giving gift cards, check out Bankrate's 2009 Gift Card Study.