Avoid one holiday hangover: The credit card bill

Who hasn't walked into Target for three items and walked out with 15? I recognize my wedding band on one of the hands raised! My most recent "Today" show story focused on holiday debt. It's a smart topic, but I've been more than a little curious about why it was assigned to me. Why not one of our male correspondents? And why is it that women get the rap for being the bigger spenders? The Apple store I wandered into last week was filled with guys holding their own as power shoppers.

For our story, we tagged along with Cynthia and Nisaac Rosario on a gift-buying trip. The Chicago couple has a three-year-old daughter and a baby on the way, but they shop for more than 30 relatives! They walked into the store with a $400 budget (and a "Today" show crew tailing them — talk about pressure!) and left with a receipt for $750. Still, they weren't close to being finished.

The point wasn't just that the Rosarios spent more than they'd planned, but how easily debt can pile up this time of year — for all of us. No one wants to feel like Scrooge, so we help Santa with our credit cards. Finding the perfect gift can feel great right now. But it's less joyous come January when the mail carrier makes an unwanted delivery — the bill. I remember a couple of years when I was still paying for Christmas well past Easter.

More than 40 percent of us carry a balance on our credit cards each month (that's women and men). In other words, we pay only part of the bill. And the amount owed per family is somewhere in the $2,000 range. Here's the spot of research that intrigued me: Shoppers using credit spend between 10 and 30 percent more than those paying with cash. That's a great argument for hitting the ATM before heading to the store.

I'm the mom of five children under the age of 12. That's a significant amount of shopping. I've found I can better resist the lure of Lightning McQueen and Barbie when I make the trip without a handful of helpers! And I've become a huge fan of point and click. Those who know me will testify that my least favorite place is the end of a checkout line. And few are open at 5 a.m. anyway, when I have a sliver of time to devote to the job. I understand the case for needing to touch and feel what you're about to spend your hard-earned cash on — but, personally, if I can avoid a department store parking lot in December — sign me up. The experts say Internet shoppers tend to spend less than those who shop in the store. Your mileage may vary.

The scramble is on, and millions are heading toward a holiday paved with plastic. From this stressed-out mom's point of view, I've been wondering whether a Christmas with fewer trimmings might be merrier after all. My diet is always in danger this time of year; I'm hoping to avoid packing it on my credit card as well.