By LaTina Emerson, The Shopper Deals

The holiday gift-giving season is fast-approaching, and many people are flocking to retail stores or searching their favorite retailers’ websites to find the perfect gifts for their friends and family members. While we may want to shower our loved ones with gifts during the holidays, it’s important to make sure we’re not going to regret our spending later and rack up huge amounts of debt.

Buying a great gift doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune. A new survey by CreditCards.com found only 53 percent of consumers plan to spend $50 or more for their most expensive gift this year. Twelve percent weren’t planning to buy gifts at all. These results indicate Americans are embracing smaller, cheaper gifts that are more meaningful to the recipient, according to CreditCards.com.

Here are some tips to make smart spending decisions this holiday season:

Establish a budget
First, it’s important to determine how much you can actually afford to spend on all holiday-related costs, from gifts, holiday meals, decorations and travel. When you crunch the numbers, you might realize that you need to make sacrifices in other areas so you’ll have enough money for holiday spending. Consider cutting back on buying coffee each morning, eating out for lunch or participating in recreational activities, such as movie outings.

Then, figure out how to stretch your dollars. Instead of cooking an entire holiday meal by yourself, consider having a potluck with family or friends. To save money on food purchases, look for coupons and deals in sales ads. For travel, consider cheaper options such as Greyhound, Megabus or carpooling.

Make a shopping list
Many of us have large families or lots of friends, so buying a gift for everyone isn’t feasible. Instead, consider having a holiday gift exchange for a group of family members or friends. Each person would draw one name and buy a gift for that person, instead of purchasing a gift for everyone. Set a price limit for how much you want each person to spend.

If you prefer to buy gifts for everyone, make a list of who you need to shop for and determine how much you want to spend per person, making sure to stay within your budget. Put some thought into what the person might actually want or need and then take advantage of holiday sales, doorbuster deals and store coupons.

Need some help brainstorming holiday gift ideas? The National Retail Federation asked consumers about the gifts they would like to receive this holiday season. Gift cards were the most popular items on wish lists (61 percent). Clothing and accessories were the second most popular, followed by books, music or movies, consumer electronics, home décor, jewelry, personal care or beauty items, sporting goods and home improvement items.

Use layaway
Instead of accumulating interest on your credit cards, take advantage of layaway programs offered by some retailers. With layaway, shoppers can select holiday gift items while they’re in stock, set them aside at the retail store and make payments by a certain date. When the layaway balance is paid in full, shoppers can bring home their holiday purchases.

Walmart: Layaway is available at Walmart through Dec. 11, for in-store purchases only. Shoppers can place the following items on layaway: electronics, toys, infant toys, infant furniture, small appliances, large furniture, auto electronics, select sporting goods and jewelry. Shoppers must make a down payment of $10 or 10 percent, whichever is greater. Each item must cost $10 or more, and the total purchase must be $50 or greater.

Toys R Us and Babies R Us: Toys R Us and Babies R Us are offering layaway through Dec. 13. Shoppers must deposit 10 percent of the total cost of their purchase. The $5 service fee will be waived for in-store purchases, with some exclusions.

Burlington: Burlington has layaway available through Dec. 24. A 20 percent deposit is required. Shoppers must pay a $5 service fee, but they can get a $5 bonus card if they complete their layaway by Dec. 24.

Use credit card rewards points
If you use your credit card often, you’ve possibly accumulated enough credit card rewards points throughout the year to get free gift cards. Check with your credit card company to find out your reward point balance or how you can start earning points to use for next year.

Get digital-only deals by shopping online
Shoppers can find a number of ways to save while shopping online, from online coupons to digital-only deals, according to CreditCards.com.

Save with membership program rewards and discounts
Membership programs, such as AAA, allow members to get discounts at certain retail stores by presenting their membership card. Members can also save on event tickets, including concerts, sporting events and movies, and earn AAA Dollars on qualifying purchases when they shop through AAA.com.

Find deals all year long
Don’t wait until the holidays to start your holiday shopping. Always be on the lookout for deals on potential gifts. Retailers offer great prices and discounts throughout the year, and you could snag a great gift and save it for later. As always, shoppers can find great deals right after the holidays when retailers are slashing prices to make room for other merchandise.