Can using gift cards help you stick to a budget?

Gift card display  rack
Gift card display rack

The holiday shopping season is drawing near, and if you're like many Americans, you may be wondering where to find the discipline to stay within your budget. Here's a new idea for you: Try using gift cards. You pay for them up front and there's no interest or late fees to pay, unlike credit cards. In fact, you don't need to wait for the holidays; gift cards could help you budget for a big expense like a vacation or a home-improvement project.

But while gift cards might help you establish a greater degree of control over your holiday spending, there are a few things you should keep in mind to stay on track, says Ruth Susswein, deputy director of national priorities for watchdog group Consumer Action. "It's not a bad idea if it helps you stick to a spending limit," Susswein says, although she notes that the people who really need financial discipline might still be tempted to whip out a credit card if their spending goes over the pre-set amount on the card.