The holidays can be a very expensive time of year, between gift-giving, travel, hosting, and decor. In fact, a large number of Americans dig themselves into debt annually in an effort to spread joy and indulge in some seasonal cheer.

It's therefore, in some ways, a good thing to hear that 24% of Americans have spent less on gifts within the past two years, while 19% canceled travel plans and 18% canceled holiday events. The reason why they did those things, however, is somewhat troubling.

A new Aflac survey reveals that Americans are cutting back on holiday spending because of mounting medical expenses. But they're also incurring debt because of it, with 26% of U.S. adults relying on credit cards during the holidays due to their immediate financial resources being swallowed by healthcare spending. All told, 53% of Americans have sacrificed something during the holidays because of their medical bills, so if you're one of them, a few smart moves on your part could help you avoid a repeat scenario the following year.

Pile of wrapped boxes

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Boost your emergency fund

The scary thing about medical bills is that they have the potential to not only pop up out of blue, but also be horrendously expensive. In fact, 37% of Americans who visited a hospital in the past two years spent $500 or more on out-of-pocket costs.

If you don't want to see next year's holidays ruined because of medical bills, save for them by boosting your emergency fund. Cut back on general expenses, from restaurant meals to leisure to cable, and put the difference in the bank. If you do so consistently, you'll have more cash to tap when healthcare issues arise.

2. Start saving for the holidays in advance

Many people are forced to make hard choices around the holidays because they don't save for them in advance. The good thing about the holidays, however, is that they come at the same time every year, so there's no surprise there. And if you cut back on spending throughout the year and put some of that money into a special savings account earmarked for holiday expenses, you'll have a dedicated source of funding next November and December.

3. Increase your income with a second job

You can only cut back on so many expenses before it impacts your quality of life. Before you go too crazy in that regard, consider getting a second job. The gig economy makes it easy to earn money in your spare time, whether by walking dogs, babysitting, or driving for a ridesharing company. That way, you'll not only be able to pad your emergency savings to cover medical costs, but you'll also have the option to beef up your holiday fund.

Keeping your holiday spending in check is a good thing. But if you're making sacrifices you're not happy with, and medical bills are the culprit, do your best to boost your cash reserves so you're not forced to limit yourself too much. At the same time, read up on your health benefits so you understand them thoroughly. The more familiar you are with your health plan, the better you'll be able to anticipate future medical costs and plan for them accordingly.