MOST South Africans are looking forward to a break in December, and after a long, hard year feel they deserve to spoil themselves.

But beware of getting carried away and ending up with huge debt in the New Year.

Credit ombudsman Manie van Schalkwyk says: "By the time December swings around, many consumers feel they deserve to spend money on luxuries such as branded clothing and footwear or going on a much-needed holiday.

"But borrowing or cutting back on your credit payments to fund these can leave you with a nasty hangover come January."

Van Schalkwyk has this advice on how to avoid getting into, or further into, debt this holiday season:

* Be smart and do not let advertising deals draw you in. These campaigns are designed to manipulate consumers into spending more over the holiday period;

* Avoid buying from stores with limited return policies - you want to know that if you need to return the goods, you will be able to. Exchange policies are also not good because you still do not get your money back - you will have to swap your product for something else;

* Before going out and buying, take the time to compare prices between stores and on websites such as pricecheck.co.za;

* Work out how much the monthly instalment on your credit repayments will be, and don't forget to add in the interest;

* Do not borrow money to pay off debts;

* Be honest with yourself and your family about how much you can afford to spend over the festive season. Once you have calculated this amount, stick to it and do not overspend;

* If you get a bonus in December it can be very tempting to blow it, but remember January, with its back-to-school necessities, is just around the corner. Use all or some of it to cover these additional expenses;

* If you apply for a loan, be honest when filling in the affordability assessment;

* Be wary of offers for "cheap" short-term loans that require no credit checks as they may be loan sharks who will charge very high interest rates; and

* Instead of taking on more debt and paying interest on it, commit yourself to saving a little extra each month so you will be in a better position this time next year.

*This article was first published in Sunday Times: Money & Careers