The idea of spending a small fortune during the holidays is hardly a foreign concept. American consumers are used to charging up a storm for things such as gifts, decorations, and travel. But clearly, some of us are bigger spenders than others.

According to data from Bank of America, Gen Xers aged 35 to 50 had the highest levels of spending among all other age groups last year, averaging $931 on holiday-related purchases. By contrast, 51- to 65-year-olds spent $853. Those under 35, as well as those 64 and older, were the most conservative in their spending, plunking down just $644 and $648, respectively.

Six wrapped presents stacked in a pyramid shape against a yellow wall.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Not surprisingly, adults between 35 and 50 also happen to carry more credit card debt than those who are older and younger. The typical 35- to 44-year-old is on the hook for $8,235, while those between 45 and 50 owe a whopping $9,096 on average, according to ValuePenguin.

Clearly, all of this points to a rather dangerous trend. If Gen Xers aren't afraid to rack up debt, there's no telling what they might spend this coming holiday season.

How much can you really afford to spend on the holidays?

It'd be one thing to save for the holidays in advance and spend that money once the season kicks into full gear. But most Americans can't afford to be spending anywhere close to what even the most conservative consumers plunked down last year ($644). It's estimated that 57% of Americans have less than $1,000 in the bank, while 39% have no savings to show for at all.

But let's pick on Gen Xers a little, because they're the ones who spent the most last year. Of those between 35 to 44, 38% have no money in savings, and 16% have some savings, but less than $1,000, per GOBankingRates.

Those aged 45 to 50, despite being older, are actually in slightly worse shape: GOBankingRates reports that 40% have no money in savings, while 18% have less than $1,000 accumulated.

All of this data paints a pretty clear picture: Gen Xers need to be more cautious going into the 2017 holiday season. So do all consumers, for that matter. Otherwise, we're all going to wind up regretting it down the line.

A smarter approach to holiday spending

At first glance, it might seem as if spending anywhere between $644 and $931 on the holidays is reasonable. The problem is that most of us can't cover that amount of spending without resorting to debt. If you'd rather not wreck your finances this season, you'll need to take your credit cards out of the equation. Rather, make a list of essential purchases, and pay for them in cash alone. This way, if you hit the stores and are tempted by so-called deals, you'll have a harder time paying for them -- especially if you only bring enough cash for the items you planned to buy in the first place.

Where will that cash come from, if not a savings account? Here's where you'll need to hustle a little, what with the holidays rapidly approaching. Your best bet is to pick up a side gig from late November through the end of December. Given the number of retailers and establishments in need of extra labor this time of year, you probably have more opportunities for snagging extra work than you think.

Another option? Take inventory at home, and sell a bunch of items you don't want or need. You can also try selling unused gifts from last year, if you have any. This includes gift cards, which you can usually trade in for cash online, albeit not quite at face value.

No matter what creative methods you employ for drumming up cash, don't make the mistake of falling back on your credit cards and spending more this season than what you can actually afford. This holds true no matter how old you are. The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, but that's the last thing you'll feel if they wind up destroying your finances.

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