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As others see it: Busted your holiday budget already?

So how did you do? Not that you can let down your guard now. On the heels of a four-day weekend filled with door-buster deals, early bird specials, shop-local guilt and Black Friday sales came Monday’s Cyber-Monday discounts. Which raises the question: How are you — and your pocketbook — faring so far this holiday season?

Why do so many of us cringe at such a question? And why do we spend, year after year, as though January’s credit card bills will never arrive, as though we’re politicians in Washington or as though we’re campaigning to make it to Washington? Are we really so gullible that we fall, en masse, for advertisers’ tricks, for the myriad marketing ploys, and to the pressure of every movie, TV show and Saturday-morning commercial that promises we can — and must — buy our way to the perfect Christmas morning?

Many of us simply can’t afford it. But we shop to excess anyway, don’t we?

If it’s not too late for you, the money experts at U.S. News and World Report compiled a handful of tips a few years back that can help anyone survive the days of Christmas. Head first into another holiday season, we share the good advice once again.

Create a realistic budget, the experts said — and then really stick to it. Sounds simple, but how many of us actually write out the names of the people we want to buy for, how much we’re willing to spend on each of them and what we want to get? And then, if the grand total is more than can be afforded, how many of us actually make tough decisions?

Budget in hand, and set in stone, the experts suggest using online coupon sites and newspaper advertisements to scout out the best prices and deals. Sites that can save cash include freeshipping.org, retailmenot.com and fatwallet.com, the magazine said.

If you’re someone who can use credit cards responsibly, use them. Credit card companies often are good for warranties on purchases and offer protection against damaged and/or defective products. Some cards even offer cash back on purchases.

Another tip is to check price-protection policies. They vary from store to store, and some stores don’t offer the chance to get a refund if the price of a product already purchased drops within a certain period of time, usually within 15 to 30 days.

Finally, here’s a reminder that isn’t from any money experts but from a more-personal and spiritual place: Remember that no matter how many mass-media messages make arguments to the contrary, you can’t — cannot, no way, no how, huh-uh — buy your way to the perfect Christmas morning.

For those who celebrate it, the holiday is about so much more than gift-giving anyway; and that’s something too often forgotten in the rush and the hurry and the glitz and the pressure-filled madness of the holidays.

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