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Once upon a time, before banks started charging fees to keep customers' money for them, many banks offered “Christmas Club” accounts.

Customers would put a small amount of money in them each week. By the time the holiday season arrived, they had enough money to cover their holiday expenses.

Some banks still offer the old fashioned Christmas Club accounts, but these days consumers are more likely to put their holiday spending on a credit card and worry about paying for it later. That's how many consumers rack up tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

Save now

To avoid going into debt, why not start saving for the holidays now? It's an expense that isn't coming as any kind of surprise so it's one you should start planning for now, right.

But where is the extra money going to come from? That's the hard part.

First, decide where you are going to keep your savings. If it goes back into your checking account, it will be easy to spend it. If, on the other hand, you take the money you save and put it in a safe place at home, it stays separate from the money you need to live on.

The easiest way to find extra money is to examine what you are now spending and where, seeing if there are places you can cut back. If you are spending $100 a week on groceries, how much can you save by making a concerted effort to use coupons, for example?

Take a look at your household budget if you haven't done so in a while. Are there regular, small expenses you can get rid of, at least temporarily? If so, that money can go into the holiday cookie jar.

Clean house

Have a yard sale. You not only clean our your closets and eliminate the clutter of unwanted items, you can easily raise $200 or more on a weekend. Books, CDs, children's toys and clothing are always in demand. Pieces of furniture you no longer need will bring you the most money.

If you don't have enough items for a yard sale, you can always sell things on Craigslist. If you live in a rural area not covered by Craiglist, buy-sell-trade Facebook pages are popping up, connecting local buyers and sellers.

Consumers spent an average of $800 each year on the holidays. It's a big expense if faced all at once. If you have the money in hand when the holidays arrive, it's a lot more manageable.

Avoid January debt

It can reduce some of the stress of the holidays, but more importantly it keeps consumers out of debt in January. Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Federation of Credit Counseling (NFCC) points out if a shopper runs up $1,000 in holiday credit card bills and makes only the minimum monthly payment of 2% of the balance at an Annual Percentage Rate of 18%, it will take 12 years to pay off the debt.

You could be paying on Christmas 2014 until Christmas 2026. Worse still, that $1,000 in Christmas goodies will have ended up costing you $2,353.

"If you're still paying for holiday spending 2013, consider rethinking your gift giving for this year," Cunningham, said. "It makes no financial sense to pile new debt on top of old. Kindness and experiences are meaningful substitutes for purchased gifts, and are remembered long after the wrapping paper and bows have been discarded."

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