'Tis the season of good intentions, the time well before the holidays when we pledge to celebrate without going overboard ... and then regret our generosity (and all that eggnog) in January.

You're about to spend a lot of time carefully choosing thoughtful and affordable gifts. Don't let your budget explode by ignoring a pile of other holiday expenses.

Unless turkey with all the trimmings, latkes, and roast beast figure on your daily menu, holiday eating can leave your grocery budget more bloated than your waistline. Compensate for your richer holiday meals by trimming your spending on the day-to-day fare. Try stocking your pantry with baking supplies now, before you're filling the grocery cart for family feasts.

Holiday cards
If you want to send holiday tidings to more people than Santa counts on his "naughty and nice" list, this can turn into a real expense. Dig out all those leftover cards from years past, and you won't have to buy as many this year. Look for coupons for photo cards, if that's more your style. Or dispense with the cards altogether, and write a holiday letter. Remember to factor stamps into your budget. Avoid square cards and odd shapes that will require more postage.

If, like me, you'd rather get run over by a herd of reindeer than enter the mall around the holidays, shipping may become a costly line item in your online shopping budget. Hunt around for websites that offer free shipping. You may have to order by a certain date to qualify. Order as much as possible at once, so you'll pay shipping charges on fewer items. Shop early to avoid express charges. Send your packages straight to the recipient if you don't plan to deliver them by hand, and you'll avoid paying shipping charges twice for the same item.

More shipping
If you're headed to the mall to buy gifts that will be mailed, keep shipping charges in mind, and pass up the bowling balls and weight sets. Handmade gifts can get expensive to ship, too. Think twice about sending baked goods if it means you need to use express mail.

It's hard to resist all that bright shiny paper and the colorful bows that will make your presents look picture-perfect sitting under the tree. Do some comparison-shopping before you get swept away. Bigger rolls of paper will be cheaper, as will bigger bags of bows. You may also have gift bags from last year in perfectly good condition, along with quite a few odds and ends of wrapping paper. If you can stand the crush, plan to head out the day after Christmas to get next year's gift wrap on sale.

I love a real tree, and I'm willing to pay for it, but I'm always surprised by how much it costs. Add a wreath, a few evergreen boughs, a centerpiece for the dining room, and suddenly you've spent quite a bit to bring a little holiday cheer into your home. Pick your decorations with future years in mind, and avoid falling for every trendy lawn decoration. If you want to compete with the house down the block that slows traffic to a crawl with holiday gawkers every year, remember to factor in the decorations and the power bill.

Unexpected gifts
There's always someone you forget, someone who surprises you, someone you feel guilty about scratching off the list. You run to the mall at the last minute, out of time and patience, and end up spending more than you should just to scratch this item off your to-do list. Now's the time to double-check your list and make sure you've thought of everyone. Decide now whether you'll reciprocate to people who give unexpected gifts, and how much you'll spend. If you want to be prepared, purchase gift cards for places where you tend to spend money anyway. If you don't give the cards away, you'll use them yourself.

For a dose of holiday cheer, keep reading and find out:

  • which retailers will fare well this holiday season;
  • the early rumors swirling around holiday sales; and
  • how to get the most from your credit card this holiday season.

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Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple welcomes your feedback. The Motley Fool has a merry disclosure policy.