It's no secret that, generally speaking, Americans aren't exactly on top of their finances. Not only does the average household carry roughly $16,000 in credit card debt, but most adults don't have nearly enough savings on hand to cover a financial emergency. In fact, 57% of workers have less than $1,000 in the bank, while 39% have absolutely nothing to fall back on at all.

It therefore stands to reason that many folks should think long and hard about keeping their holiday spending to a minimum this year. Yet a new GOBankingRates study reveals that the majority of consumers expect to spend an entire paycheck on the upcoming holidays.

Couple decorating a Christmas tree


Now we're not just talking gifts. There are other aspects of the holidays that can add up as well, from decorations to parties to travel. Still, the fact that so many people plan to blow a paycheck's worth of money on the holidays is disturbing given how desperately most adults need to be saving money.

Here's a bit of even worse news: A good 44% of adults think they'll spend more than one full paycheck this season, while 9% expect to fork over three months' pay to get their holiday cheer on.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with enjoying the holidays if you've planned well and have budgeted accordingly. But most people aren't in that situation, and will end up setting back their finances by spending a paycheck or more this season.

A better approach to holiday spending

While it's obviously too late to go back in time and better plan for the holidays this year, here's a better approach to adopt for 2018: Save more money in advance. This way, if your total spending does wind up equaling what you'd bring home in a paycheck, it won't have the same impact on your finances.

Say you bring home $1,200 per paycheck and wind up spending that much on the holidays this year. In the absence of savings, you'll need to rack up some amount of debt to cover your purchases, thus creating a situation where you're forced to lose extra money to interest. But if you go into 2018 with the intent of saving close to $100 a month between January and November, then by the time the holidays roll around, you'll have that extra money on hand and won't have to take on more debt.

Where will that $100 a month come from? You might choose to cut back on certain expenses and make the holidays a priority. For example, eliminate two restaurant meals each month, or scale back on leisure during the year, and set aside the money you save in an account dedicated to the holidays.

Another option is to work a side hustle during the year so that by the time the holidays roll around, you'll have accumulated enough money to cover your expenses. You might even get away with working a second gig during the holidays alone, especially since opportunities tend to creep up around that time (think retail positions and the like).

Of course, the latter is an option this holiday season, too. If you think your spending will land you in debt this December, find local businesses in need of extra hands on deck and put in some time over these next few weeks. Offsetting at least some of your expenses with extra cash will help soften the blow to your finances.

Finally, go easy on spending to the greatest extent possible. Avoid expensive gifts, travel off-peak to keep your costs down, and don't be shy about asking guests to bring things to your upcoming holiday dinner or bash. Spending an entire paycheck on the holidays is something most of us can't really afford to do, so any steps you take to lower your costs will help you keep your debt to a minimum.

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