Special to the Mirror

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…with any luck, no credit card bills!

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Dallas recommends that consumers start saving for the holidays a year ahead of time, these experts know most families haven’t saved a dime with Christmas only a few weeks away.

• Twelve drummers drumming: Don’t get “drummed” into purchasing expensive holiday CDs. Buy songs from various online retailers and make your own mix. This way, you get the exact songs you want from various artists without having to buy entire albums. A gift card for online music is also a popular and easy gift option.

• Eleven pipers piping: Don’t forget that you are going to have to “pay the piper” i.e. MasterCard, VISA and American Express. Most consumers are still paying off last year’s Christmas bills when the next Christmas rolls around. Before swiping plastic, be sure you can pay off the bill in full in January or be prepared to pay the interest.

• Ten lords a-leaping: Don’t “leap” into purchasing this year’s latest toy or gadget. It will still be there after you put up your tinsel and holly, and it might even be on sale. Your child can wait for that popular toy, and it will likely be on sale in January.

• Nine ladies dancing: Don’t let your creditors “dance” around you this holiday season. Make sure you aren’t loaded by debt. Set aside cash now to pay for gifts instead of relying on credit cards. But first, make sure money is reserved for necessary bills. You don’t want to have a Christmas tree without lights because your electricity went out. Budget for necessities and set aside for emergencies before you break the bank on gifts.

• Eight maids a-milking: Don’t get “milked” into applying for every store’s personal credit card. Retailers know consumers are worried about spending lots of money during the holiday season and are easily convinced that the 10 percent saved when applying for a store credit card is actually a good deal. Know the more credit cards you have, the more likely you are to charge on each one. Having numerous credit cards also lowers your credit score, which could take years to build back up.

• Seven swans a-swimming: Stay “afloat” by balancing your holiday activities and expenses. Holidays bring more fund-raising events and parties. Prioritize your activities, including charity events and holiday parties and make sure you budget for these expenses as well as for your family’s gifts. Explaining to your children that you are going to cut back on gifts this year so you can help another child who otherwise wouldn’t get anything can make them forget about the having latest gadget and get excited about helping others.

• Six geese a-laying: Don’t be a “bad” egg by forgetting anyone on your list. Start today by making your shopping list, complete with gift ideas and a dollar amount you anticipate spending per person. This way, you don’t blow your budget on Aunt Bee while forgetting a treat for Fido.

• Five golden rings: Don’t feel you have to keep up with the Joneses by buying expensive, luxurious items such as jewelry or cars. Often times, creative, inexpensive gifts can have more meaning than an expensive price tag. Remember, the Joneses are probably in debt.

• Four calling birds: Now is a time to re-evaluate your communications plans. Whether it’s your cell phone bill, Internet connection or stamps for holiday cards, these things are important for communication with family and friends around the holidays. They also cost money, but are necessary to spread holiday cheer for all to hear. These are things you don’t think about until it’s too late.

Many companies offer cell phone plans with free cell phones and upgraded services around the holiday season. Call your provider to check out specials or deals.

• Three French hens: If you are planning a holiday party at your home, save stress, money and time by asking your family to pitch in on the cooking. Ask each family invited to bring a dish or drinks, so that each of you can share the costs and divide the labor. In this case, three hens in the kitchen are better than two.

• Two turtle doves: Speaking of turtles, make your own candy or treats for gifts needed in mass quantities. These are a cost-effective way to give a nice present to co-workers, your son’s football team, the local volunteer fire department, babysitters and teachers.

Buying an individual gift for each person can be costly and sometimes stressful if you don’t know what they like. Everyone enjoys sweets!

• A partridge in a pear tree: Money doesn’t grow on trees, so remember to put that bonus or cash you receive into a savings account.

There’s also the option of putting that money into an IRA to reduce your taxable income and provide long-term savings for retirement.

Try to treat it as if you never received it and certainly don’t count on your bonus for junior’s laptop.

You won’t regret planning now for 2008 and saving those extra dollars. Maybe Santa will reward you for being a good boy or girl this year.