Three secrets to help prevent buyers remorse during the holidays work any time of year.

In short, know what you want, stay focused and plug leaks, said Brenda Schmitt, a human sciences family finance field specialist working in 10 North Iowa counties with Iowa State Extension. She recently taught an interactive online personal finance course.

A story about a boy who was encouraged by his mom to save money for the hunting bow he wanted illustrated the importance of goals. Midstream he wanted a gaming system but stuck to his goal. Once he got his bow and his deer, he went on to save for fishing equipment. Mom wondered what happened to the gaming system but realized it never actually became his top priority.

You want to make sure you have your list and stay focused, Schmitt said.

Time and money are our two biggest resources. People who have budgets and stick to them experience less stress and frustration than those who dont, she said.

Schmitt discourages people from having one pile of money for fun and another for household expenses. Its all your money and where all of it goes matters.

She walked through the process of creating a simple budget. Using a worksheet, she asked class participants to assign a dollar value for household expenses.

First, basic necessities like the roof over your head, medicine, and car so you can get to work, Schmitt said. After that, put a figure on variable expenses like food, clothing, recreation, gifts, insurance, utility payments.

When working with clients, Schmitt often asks how much they spend on birthdays or Christmas. People will say it depends on how much they have.

Thats the wrong answer, she said.

The amount that will be spent on gifts should be decided ahead of time. If the budget is tight this Christmas, Schmitt advises people to share that with other family members. In this economy, that may simply be the reality.

She remembers a mom who who was upset about the upcoming holiday season.

They had gotten themselves in such a financial bind, Schmitt said.

Continuing the illusion that money grows on trees helps no one. She advised her to look at the situation as a learning opportunity for everyone.

Her kids were all adults, Schmitt said. They really toned it down.

Each child received one gift from the parents. Afterward, everyone agreed it had been the best Christmas theyd ever had, Schmitt said.

They made really good memories with time spent together doing things rather than giving things, she said.

Schmitt urges people to make a decision to begin saving so they can draw on that pool of money for expenses. Savings may start out small, perhaps with a third pay check in one month, a tax refund or a bonus. Once established, pay a set amount into personal savings every paycheck or every month.

The advantage to this would be the money is going to be sitting there, she said. Youll have it when you need it.

One person Schmitt worked with opened a bank account in a neighboring town so it was less convenient to draw money out. Within six months, she had a savings account for the first time and $2,000.

If accustomed to using a credit card, wrapping it in a note as a reminder of the new savings goal may be helpful. One client tempted by television shopping offers put a note on her TV remote.

Plan optional purchases during sales, Schmitt said. Linens, outdoor gear, camcorders, air conditioners, sports gear, grills and snowblowers all go on sale seasonally.

Only borrow money for a car once. When paid for, keep making car payments to oneself to build savings for the next vehicle purchase.

Look for spending leaks. The individual who regularly buys a pop out of a soda machine at work every day would do better getting that pop at a discount store.

In one class, Schmitt said a participating dad figured he spent $2,000 a year on $20 bills -- the ones he gave his children before they went to a movie or a football game. He decided they all needed to live within budgets.

By having goals taped on the refrigerator door, children see their parents saving and prioritizing their spending which helps them begin to learn a valuable life skill, Schmitt said.

One of the most important things you can do is track your spending, she said.

Keep track on a computer, a calendar or put outgoing payments for the month into separate envelopes, she said. Do what works.

People have different ways of making savings work, she said. Some put every $5 bill they get into a cash box. Some work an extra job a few months of the year.

Everybody can do something that they dont particularly care to do for some time, Schmitt said.

Maybe its dropping the cable television or Internet temporarily to help seed your savings.

Its an inconvenience but it'll help you achieve that goal, Schmitt said. Do whatever it takes to stay motivated and get out of debt.