Well, it's that time of year again. Christmas decorations are being unpacked. Holiday plans are being hatched. And you've got a list of people you need to buy gifts for that's as long as a Roman scroll. Before the stress cripples you - and your bank account - there are a few simple steps you can take to ease your holiday tour of duty. First, take a deep breath. If you plan properly and shop efficiently, holiday shopping will become much more manageable. Soon you'll be resting easy, knocking back the eggnog and content with the fact that you covered your bases without devastating your bank account.

1. Set a budget. Do not deviate from it. Knowing your spending parameters before entering the local mall and department stores will keep you from caving every time a sale price catches your eye. Try to allocate a spending limit for each person on your list. You can be flexible here, but remember to keep the bigger picture - your budget - in mind at all times.

2. Create your own gifts. Can you knit, cook, paint or draw? Think about what you're good at making and then make it happen. If you can parlay your natural talents into something that can be gift-wrapped, you're golden. Aside from being completely cost effective, creating your own gifts adds a personal touch that is hard to replicate otherwise. Which bring us to the next tip.

3. Make your own Christmas cards. No, they don't have to be generic printouts taken from an outdated website. Go ahead and poke around a bit. With programs like Adobe Photoshop and some good cardstock from your local crafts store, you'll rival even the most endearing Hallmark cards.

4. Buy used gifts. There's no law against giving someone a used present. If you have a friend or family member who collects antiques or old books, this is the perfect way to save money while giving a gift that comes from the heart. Or, if you're buying a present for a teen or child, find out what type of video game system they own and purchase a used game. Most retailers that sell used games guarantee their quality, so you don't have to worry about passing along a bunk gift.

5. Find ways to give back that don't involve money. Showing someone how much you appreciate them can - and should - go beyond a price tag. Do something nice for a stranger. Volunteer at a local food shelf or help organize a caroling group. Actions like this will surely infuse you with a sense of genuine Christmas spirit.