Christians Against Poverty is urging people not to give into the temptation of a loan to cover the cost of their Christmas celebrations.
The U.K.-based debt counseling charity says it is not out to kill the festive season but that it wants people to have a clear spending strategy to see them safely into the New Year.
CAP Chief Executive Matt Barlow believes such a strategy is wise as yet more economic uncertainty looms on the horizon.
"These are difficult times for a lot of us and the temptation is to say 'at least we'll have a great Christmas' and use that as an excuse to spend what we haven't got," he said.
"If you've already caught yourself saying this, we want your alarm bells to be ringing loud and clear."
"The New Year is full of uncertainty: job losses, VAT will be going up, benefits are changing, energy bills are rising and we don't know what interest rates will do," he noted. "If we were ever going to get our spending under control at Christmas – it should be this year."
The charity said that around half of its clients with "out-of-control" debt had taken out a loan at some time to help cover the cost of Christmas.
It warned that many of them went on to lose their homes, suffer mental health problems, contemplate suicide and find themselves unable to feed and clothe their children.
"We're not party poopers," Barlow said. "We just want people to enjoy Christmas and not be anxious about whether they will be able to pay it all back."
The charity has released its top ten tips for avoiding festive debt. In addition to never taking out a Christmas loan, they include being honest with family members if things are tight, not buying gifts for others out of obligation, and collaborate with relatives to buy the kids' presents.
1. Decide what you have to spend. Make a list and be realistic. Paying in cash may help you keep control. Let your children see your careful planning – you'll be teaching them a valuable life-long lesson.
2. Manage expectations early. If things are tight don't be afraid to say so to family members. You'll probably all be in the same boat and it may lead to a happier Christmas for them too!
3. See if relatives will club together with you to buy children what they would like, rather than individually over indulging them and all feeling out of pocket.
4. Buy fewer presents but more cheaper trimmings like paper chains and crackers. They all add to the fun without costing very much.
5. Never take out a Christmas loan! Remember the possible consequences could be disastrous for you and your family.
6. Give ironing or baby-sitting vouchers or make presents as opposed to buying them. For example, delicious homemade biscuits, chocolates and fudge make a lovely gift and show you've spent time and care.
7. Remember, you can't buy love. Don't feel guilty if you can't afford the latest present for your children. Your love and affection will last longer in the memory than any toy can.
8. Don't fall into the trap of reciprocal gift giving and don't buy out of obligation.
9. Don't overspend in the January sales, in spite of how good a bargain you might see. Make a budget and stick to it and if possible, leave those credit cards at home.
10. Enjoy all the low cost things on offer – the lights in town, get togethers, making mince pies, playing family board games, seeing your kids in the school nativity – and have a very Happy Christmas!