Despite the economic gloom, it will be Christmas as usual for most people this year, with a predicted spend of over £500 per adult – an expense that will leave many suffering a painful financial hangover well into the New Year.

According to price comparison website, more than half the population are already worrying about how they will cover the cost.

But the spending survey by HSBC reveals only one in five plan to have a cheaper Christmas than last time, with the same proportion planning to spend more than in 2011.

Loading article content

Scots typically expect to spend £343 on presents for family and friends, and £172 on festive food and drink.

Rod Ashley, chief executive of Scotwest Credit Union, said: "For many, the quick solution is to borrow additional money or put it on the credit card. However, with high interest rates, this only adds to the problem come January, when the bills arrive and the savings have gone."

The way to prevent this, Ashley believes, is to start putting cash away well before the festive season.

He said: "By saving a small amount regularly over the course of the year, you'll be more likely to avoid the need to turn to credit cards or quick-fix payday loans."

There are other ways to cut the financial pain. Ashley recommends drawing up a detailed plan for seasonal spending – and sticking to it come what may, including agreeing a reasonable gift budget with friends and family and sticking to it.

If you do need to borrow, shop around for the cheapest option and understand what it will cost you.

At this time of year, many financial providers promote cash back cards, which reward users for their spending by returning a percentage as a credit on their account

Michael Ossei of website said: "The rewards have seldom been so generous – a £500-a-month spend on the most competitive cards is now likely to earn you upwards of £100 a year."

However, these cards are a good deal only if you can afford to clear your balance right away, otherwise interest costs soon wipe out the benefits. And you need to follow strict monthly spending rules to qualify for each cash back payment.

Store cards should also be handled with extreme care. Shop assistants, rewarded for signing you up, often promote them with the promise of big discounts on initial purchases.

But with interest rates of between 20% and 30% a year, these are also only worth having if you can afford to clear the debt right away, before you start paying for the privilege.

If you really need credit, a card that charges no interest at all on purchases for the first year or more offers a much better deal

Tesco Bank, M&S Bank, Halifax, Barclaycard, NatWest and Bank of Scotland all have such cards. You will pay between 15.9% and 18.9% on any debt once the introductory interest-free period is over.

If it will take longer than this to clear what you owe, ask yourself if it is really worth spending the money in the first place.

Fiona Fadhli has been saving for the festive season since the beginning of the year.

The 33-year-old from East Kilbride, who works in telecoms and is married to a trainee electrician, opened a Christmas Savings Account with credit union Scotwest. She said: "For the past few years I've been using Scotwest's Saver Account for things like holidays, paying a little in each month, so I wouldn't miss the money."

When she discovered her employer planned to delay the annual staff bonus until February next year, she decided to start putting cash away – £50 a month – for Christmas.

Fadhli, who has a two-year-old daughter, Amira, said: "Putting something away each month has been really easy to do and it has completely put my mind at rest. It's a relief to know the only stress I'll be facing this Christmas is the crowds at shopping time."