I know it's no use fussing about the financial mess many of you are probably going to get into this month by buying holiday gifts you can't afford with other people's money - you know, credit cards.
In fact, for 38 percent of Americans, the holiday season brings financial stress, according to a survey by MDRT, an association of financial services professionals.MDRT found that 55 percent of those who use credit cards for holiday purchases don't pay them off right away.
But lots of people interviewed for the MDRT survey said they want to do better with their finances. Twenty-two percent of respondents said they are resolving to improve their financial situation in 2005. Of that number, three in four plan to save more and spend less, and - most important - 56 percent intend to get out of debt.
Of course, getting out of debt won't happen if you don't have a plan. So this month the December Color of Money Book Club selection is "Pay It Down!" (Portfolio, $19.95) by Jean Chatzky, a columnist with Money magazine and contributor to the "Today" show.
What I like about this book is its brevity both in size and solution.
Chatzky's get-out-of-debt plan is simple: Find $10 a day out of your regular expenses and you can pay down your debts in less time than you think.
And yes, you read right -- $10.
How is that possible?
"It's a movie without popcorn," Chatzky writes. "It's lunch at McDonald's for two children. It's skipping the car wash and washing the car in your driveway instead. It's so many of those things that you can do without."
In one chapter, Chatzky provides worksheets to help you find the $10, with tips on how to trim your expenses. There are spaces in the book where you can write down whatever money you manage to save toward your $10 pay-it-down goal.
This book is all about simplicity. Often so many personal finance books complicate the issue. They have impressive-looking charts and seven, eight or nine steps to financial freedom. But really, getting and staying out of debt is often about control. And about choices.
"If you haven't been able to bring your budget in line so far, the question is not whether you're going to have to make hard choices; it's which hard choices are you going to make," Chatzky writes.
If cutting back on lattes and lunches isn't making a dent in your debt, then you may need to think bigger, she says. You may need to look at the items that are costing you the most money, such as housing, your car payments or education expenditures.
Chatzky challenges people to take a good, hard look at what some consider the untouchable expenses. For instance, to trim your debt you may have to move.
"I know the conventional wisdom is that your house is the asset you'll retire on (and often retire in), that it's the most valuable asset in your portfolio," she writes. "But unless you can afford to make the payments, it's also the one that can be your Achilles' heel."
Now, don't gasp. The woman hasn't lost her mind. She is just suggesting that you might need to trade down to a home with a more manageable mortgage payment. Maybe you should even rent for a while so you can pay off your credit cards.
"I'm not saying you shouldn't own a house," Chatzky writes. "Owning a house and paying it off is a big step toward wealth and financial security. I'm saying that if you can't make ends meet, you perhaps shouldn't own this house at this time."
Perhaps you should get rid of your car or sell one of your cars to tackle your troubling debt, Chatzky recommends. You might need to put your kids in a public rather than private school.
Ultimately, Chatzky preaches that freeing yourself of debt allows you to put that money toward things that really matter. Pay your debts down, and that can happen.
To that end, if you are interested in discussing this month's book selection on how you can get out of debt, join me online at www.washingtonpost.com at noon Dec. 15. My guest will be Jean Chatzky.
* To become a member of the Color of Money Book Club, all you have to do is read the recommended book and come chat online with the author.
* In addition, every month I randomly select readers to receive copies of the selected book that have been donated by the publishers. For a chance to win a copy of "Pay It Down!" send an e-mail to email@example.com. You must include your name, address and daytime and evening phone numbers so we can send you a book if you win.
\ Listen to Michelle Singletary discuss personal finance every Tuesday on NPR's "Day to Day." To hear her reports online go to www.npr.org. Readers can write to her c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.