One reason people don't like to talk about money: They think any plan will mean they have less to spend. They think that under any plan they will have to make painful sacrifices in the name of fiscal solvency, and they will have to disappoint those who are depending on them for a great Christmas.

While there is a grain of truth in these fears, they aren't as bad as you think. In fact, lack of planning is one of the main reasons people end up spending more than they want to on gifts.

Deciding on the amount of money you will spend is just part of the solution. Failure to set aside time for shopping is another reason people spend more than they want to. When they have to buy many gifts at the last minute, they may buy whatever looks appropriate, no matter what the price is.

The real challenge is determining in advance how much you can afford to spend and how you can get the most for your money.

Dealing with overblown expectations should be done well in advance of the holiday. Tell the teen who wants a moped that you want to wait until spring to consider that. Tell the one who wants several very expensive computer games that it would be better to master one or two before moving on.

Have to buy a half dozen gifts for relatives or friends? Shop by catalog. You might pay a little more, but the time savings could be worth it. Further, you won't be showing favoritism, because all gifts were from the same place and were about the same price.

There's no time to lose. Start planning now.