Some of the nation’s largest retailers are offering deep discounts right now on big dollar items like electronics, furniture and appliances. Many people, who are already in debt, may be tempted to dig themselves into an even deeper financial hole.

Tahira Hira is an Iowa State University professor of personal finance and consumer economics. She says racking up credit card debt can put a strain on a person’s relationships and health. “There are a very old rules that still apply: wants are unlimited and we need to distinguish between a need and a want,” Hira said. “Want is something we can have control over. Needs are something…we need to prioritize.”

Hira says “impulse buys” are especially difficult to avoid at this time of year when people are Christmas shopping. She recommends planning for Christmas year round. “We all know it comes every year at the end of December. It’s not a surprise,” Hira said. “The right thing to do would be to plan for it. Every month, set aside a certain amount of money in a Christmas fund.”

Hira also encourages consumers to spend with cash, rather than a credit card. She says people who overload their credit cards are hurting themselves – and the overall economy. “When we borrow and don’t pay back and businesses are not able to have the money they needed, then they can’t keep people employed…that doesn’t do us well,” Hira said. Shopping with cash has other advantages. Hira says many retailers now offer discounts to consumers making cash purchases.