NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- For couples on a budget, the holidays can be a fun and frugal time of year with lots of window shopping and movie watching -- or they can become a nightmare of overspending and deceit. Unfortunately, a desire to please everyone on your gift list may lead to spending more than either of your budgets will allow. When couples aren't honest with one another about where the money is going, experts say it's the perfect recipe for trouble.
Thankfully, couples who follow the following five rules for holiday spending should ring in the New Year without financial or relationship woes.
"The very first step in any of this is to set up a mechanism for dialogue," says Ken Kamen, president of Mercadien Asset Management. "It's not just important at the holidays, but for all the things you buy throughout the course of the year -- are you going to buy his golf clubs or your shoes? It's a constant exchange."
When you set up a framework for talking about money, it shouldn't look too differently from the way many large companies do it, Kamen says, suggesting that couples make it a point to get together "once a quarter" to discuss goals.
"The more you communicate the better it's going to be," he says. "When it comes to matters of money, there can be a lot of resentment there about who spent what or who spent more throughout the course of the year, and keeping an open dialogue going is the best way to prevent that."
When you get together to discuss your financial picture, Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial, says you should keep a record of what you and your spouse think at the time.
"Write down your plans," de Baca says. "As you work through your holiday budget, record your discussion. This can help you and your spouse come to a compromise and can also create a document for you to refer back to throughout the holiday weeks and can even be a point of reference when the 2014 holiday season comes around."
2. No surprises -- even if you think you're being thoughtful.
"This can be confusing for any relationship," Kamen says. "It's like we share everything, but wait, we don't share everything. As a couple, the two of you are an economic unit and the best gift you can give your partner is intimacy -- the intimacy of knowing what you're doing and how much you're spending."
Both partners need to be "engaged" with a complete picture of how much is being spent from the household budget, and unfortunately, surprises can lead to resentment, Kamen says.
Even if you're tempted to surprise your significant other with a lavish gift, de Baca says to keep long-term goals in mind.
"It can be easy to stray from your budget during the holiday season, but be sure that your holiday budget correlates with your overall monthly or annual budget," she says. "If you have extra spending money this year -- great! Pick out a special treat for someone on your list. If you have spent more over the course of the year than you intended, think about scaling back your gift list or holiday budget."
3. Plan what you're going to spend.
"When it comes to discussing money, it's always good to stick to the facts," says Donna Tonrey, a marriage and family therapist and director of the masters program in psychology at La Salle University in Philadelphia.
"In this case, the facts would be setting a budget, who they need to buy for and what they will spend on each other. If the couple can agree on the facts, they have a much better chance of sharing their feelings about those facts," she says.
Planning a holiday budget is not difficult, Kamen says. It's something everyone can do, so there aren't many valid excuses for not doing it.
"You know what you're able to spend," he says. "You know Christmas is coming, so sit down and decide as a couple what your budget will be."
4. Keep a running record of what you spend -- going all the way back to your first purchase.
The fact that you bought a gift for your sister three weeks ago won't make it any cheaper when the credit card statement comes in, Kamen cautions.
"The Internet allows people to buy a bunch of $20 items and people may not realize they are blowing their budget out one small item at a time," he says. "Those purchases are still part of your holiday shopping dollars; they're still part of the budget."
Overall, holiday spending is a huge chunk of money -- the National Foundation for Credit Counseling estimates that consumers will spend more than $700 this year on holiday purchases, says Gail Cunningham, Vice President of Membership and Public Relations at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
"Ask yourself what other $700 spending decision you make without planning for it or discussing it with your spouse," Cunningham suggests.
To make it through the holiday season peacefully, Kamen cautions that you may need to compromise with people in your extended family as well as your spouse.
"It may come down to spending on your family vs. your spouse's family, and you have to set the rules with those family members so you don't find yourself in gift Armageddon," he says.
For families with kids, it's a good idea to set predetermined spending limits, and it's OK to set them low.
"Just because someone can afford to exchange a $300 present doesn't mean you have to join them," Kamen says. "Tell the family that you would prefer to just spend an evening together having some family time. It's perfectly acceptable -- don't let them strong-arm you into spending too much."
Also, keep in mind that even though the discussion may be difficult, not having it will be much worse come January, Cunningham says.
"Since the conversation is going to happen sometime, it becomes a matter of when you want to have it -- before or after the money is spent -- so you might as well act responsibly in advance."