The holidays can bring as much stress as they do joy, in part because of the havoc the season plays on pocketbooks.

But if you put a little forethought into your spending, you can easily have your proverbial Christmas cake and be debt-free, say budget-crunching gurus The Smart Cookies.

“In any situation where you are going to be spending more than you normally do, come armed with a plan,” said Katie Dunsworth, one of the Vancouver-based Smart Cookies. “That seems like basic advice, but create a budget.”

She says a good way to account for increased holiday spending without being hit with a massive bill is to cut back on unnecessary expenses.

“We call it the rather factor,” Dunsworth said.

“What would you rather have? These are (things) like coffees and meals out. There’s nothing better than finding money that already exists in your life.”

As for gift giving, Dunsworth said “more isn’t necessarily more.”

“It’s the thought that counts, and I know that it sounds cliché, but it’s the idea of picking up on a nuance or an interest that someone might have and giving them something that’s really special.

“It’s not how much you spend, it’s the thought that you’re able to put into the gift. Be creative.”

In Dunsworth’s circle, for example, they re-gift items — like books or music — that they really enjoyed that year but don’t necessarily need to keep.

“And it doesn’t cost anything,” she said.