Organize your finances

Every year seems to be the same story: You don't mean to, but you end up overspending on the holidays. Here's how you can steer yourself back on the right track.

Make a budget. Buy money-manager software, such as Quicken (the basic edition is $30; www.quicken.intuit.com). These programs can help you balance your checkbook and track where you're spending your money.

Save up store credit. Get cash or store credit when you return unwanted holiday presents. Use it later when you really need it, such as when your kids want new summer clothes.

Don't panic about big bills. The worst thing you can do is ignore them: If your credit card payments are late, you'll rack up fees and finance charges; send at least the minimum payment.

Look for small savings. See where you can cut your spending. If you always get a manicure and pedicure, for example, do your own nails for a few months. Or you might save by canceling your cable, or just your premium cable channels, for a month or two.

Get a temporary part-time job. If you're willing to give up some of your spare time, you may be able to make enough extra money to eliminate your debt. Just make sure you throw the extra money at your debt, otherwise it may become a permanent part-time job.

Ask for help. If you're in serious credit card debt, consider contacting a credit counselor. Find one through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.nfcc.org). You might have to pay a small fee for the counselor's service, but it can help you cut your debt.