The National Retail Federation recently made its forecast for the 2014 shopping season. Americans are expected to spend $617 billion – up 4% from last year! But local financial professional Paul Durso from Durso Capital Management says there are some easy ways to cut the costs.

The holiday shopping season has traditionally been the most important season for retailers – making up about 20% – 40% of their yearly sales, so stores are eager to move the season earlier and earlier. And many people are planning ahead- 40% of shoppers will start buying gifts before Halloween (according to the National Retail Federation.)

Retailers are trying to lure shoppers, and many of them are taking the bait, are you?

If you start now- you can spread out your holiday purchases across paychecks in October, November and December. Here’s what you don’t want to do financially- wait until the week before Christmas, then realize you don’t have the cash for your gifts and put it all on your credit card. With the high interest rates credit companies are charging- your $20 gift could turn into $40 by the time you can pay it off!

I’ve got 5 practical tips that are part of my Holiday Shopping Survival Guide.

1. Set a Spending Limit
Before you hit your first store website- make a list of who you’re buying for and how much you plan to spend. I stress to my clients the importance of budgeting year-round, and holiday shopping is no exception. Keep that checklist with you as you shop to help avoid impulse buys.

2. Go for the Gift Card
You probably have people like teachers, babysitters, newspaper carriers and doormen on your list of who to buy for. You can save yourself a lot of guesswork by getting gift cards. Plus, it’s a great way to stick to a budget. But only buy gift cards from reputable retailers. Cards sold through online auction sites might be stolen or counterfeit.

3. Be Scrooge
Be Scrooge when it comes to shopping for yourself. It is so easy to impulse buy when you see something you like on sale, but this is one of the biggest budget-busters! The National Retail Federation says self-gifters will spend about $130! Stick to your spending limit and try to steer clear of temptation.

4. Avoid hidden Fees
The average person plans to do 40% of their shopping online (according to the NRF). When you’re using the Internet, you need to be especially careful, or you could end up paying for something you don’t want. These types of hidden fees can really add up, so make sure you read the fine print before agreeing to buy anything.

5. Win Loyalty Points
This will be an extremely promotional holiday season, and many stores will offer special deals to loyal customers. Consider signing up for emails from your favorite stores, and also keep an eye on their websites, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages and phone apps. And don’t forget the traditional method of scoring coupons- the newspaper.