Ah, January! That wonderful month for football, fresh starts and frightening credit card bills.

"Psychologically, shopping gives many people a lot of pleasure," writes Sarah Milton in the retirehappy blog. "There's something quite festive about the scene. Wandering around in a warm, well-lit space when it's freezing cold outside. All the while, we're picking out gifts for those we care about. The trouble is, that the nice warm space and generous mindset often lead to us spending far more than we intended to."

Has holiday spending left you with a raging debt hangover? Here are some smart ways to treat it now and keep out of trouble next time.

How to deal with debt after the holidays

1. Avoid using credit cards for a while

Put your credit cards away — frozen in an ice-tray, if necessary. The harder it is to get at them, the easier it is to resist the urge to use them. Don't put them back in your wallet until you've cleared your balance.

2. Pay off credit card debt

Pay off the card with the highest interest rate first. Don't know how much interest your credit cards charge? Now’s a good time to find out. You may be shocked at the rates you’re paying.

Another way to pay off your cards and modify your behaviour at the same time is the "debt snowball" approach. That means you start by paying the minimum on all but the lowest balance, and throwing every penny you can at that balance until it's cleared. Then, redirect that money to the next-lowest balance until it's cleared, and so on. You should see results quickly, which will reinforce your smart behaviour.

You can also make it painless by arranging an automatic payment from your bank account straight to your credit card.

3. Stay away from post-holiday sales if you can

Forget about the hair of the dog — keep out of the mall. Pitch those sale flyers without even looking at them. Instead, do something constructive like cleaning out the garage (weather permitting) or the bathroom cupboard. If that sounds too much like work, make it a PJs day with some good movies and a vat of hot chocolate. Or spend the time outdoors with your family.

3 tips for debt-free holiday shopping

Holiday shopping may be behind you. But it helps to know how to shop smart and avoid holiday debt in the future. Here are some tips to keep in mind for the next festive season:

1. Create a shopping budget

Make your shopping list and budget based on what you can really afford and stick to it. And when you're done, you're done. No picking up little extras that can add up quickly. "Knowing who you intend to shop for and how much you intend to spend helps you determine what you can buy," says Milton.

2. Avoid buying gifts for everyone

If you have a large family or circle of friends, suggest drawing names rather than buying for everybody. This is a good activity to plan for Thanksgiving dinner.

3. Plan ahead or make your own gifts

Give yourself enough time to devise and make gifts, rather than blowing your budget on last-minute shopping. You can start shopping early to hunt for bargains.

You can even make your own gifts. You don't have to be super-crafty. There are lots of clever, easy handmade gift ideas out there that don't require mad cooking, sewing or glue-gun skills.

Consider giving the gift of time by:

  • creating vouchers for grocery shopping for an elderly friend or relative,
  • babysitting for a young family,
  • grass-cutting or snow-shovelling for a neighbour with a bad back, or
  • providing a day of errand-running for a friend who's slammed for time.

"You may love to buy extravagant gifts for a large number of people. Or you may prefer to make special gifts for a select group,” says Milton. “Either way, it’s important that what you choose to spend makes you happy, fits with your budget and doesn't leave you struggling in January."

  • Need help getting started? An advisor can help you build a plan to reduce debt and improve your finances. Find an advisor near you.