A Recipe for Seasonal Spending

Updated September 2021
A Recipe for Seasonal Spending USAA Community.png

Historically, I’ve focused on eating right and exercise and gotten to this point in the year in tip-top shape just, if I’m honest, in time to go off the rails during the holiday season. On the financial front, we have normally saved a little bit each pay period to put us in position for our upcoming holiday spend.


Of course, the pandemic has dragged on and created another not-so-normal year and despite my best intentions, I’m stumbling on all fronts as we move into the fall. If you find yourself in the same boat, it’s going to be important to attack the holidays – both physically and financially – with a solid plan. One designed to ensure you escape the holidays with no extra padding on your scale or credit card statements.


With that in mind, here are a few ideas to keep you on course when it comes to eating and spending.  If you do, you’ll start what I hope will be a much better 2022 without needing to add weight – or debt reduction – to your New Year’s resolutions: 


Set a calorie limit. We all know that establishing a daily calorie cap and tracking your efforts can help you through a minefield of eating opportunities. To stay financially fit, put a realistic cap on your holiday spending, too.  Figure out how much you can afford to spend for gifts before you shop.  Ideally, its money you’ve already set aside, but regardless, make a commitment to shop within your means and don’t be ashamed to spend less in 2021, it’s been another tough year.


Make a list.  That banana split pie that wasn’t on your grocery list can’t add to your waistline if you don’t buy it.  Likewise, unwise purchases can’t add to your debt load if you don’t make them.   It’s true that the music, aroma of holiday goodies and a generally festive atmosphere can cause even the best-laid plan to go awry.  And this year we are certainly due for that type of goodness, but protect your wallet and stomach from this assault of the senses by sticking to your list.


Review the nutritional information. Being up to speed on what’s going into your system calorie-wise is a great idea as you plan your holiday fare.  Being educated about what you’re about to buy does the same thing for you financially. So, do your research before you shop. Use online sites to find the lowest prices. This year circumstances have probably pushed you to be an even more adept online shopper. Don’t loosen up your standards as the holidays approach. Do the work necessary to know what things cost and get the best deal to help safely navigate what can be a challenging time of year.


Maintain Control. Success in the battle of the bulge has a lot to do with setting limits. Often, this means taking simple steps such as eating healthy meals at home rather than racking up calories out on the town.  Such maneuvers also work on the financial front. One of the best ways to set limits is to shop using only cash.  Credit cards provide the greatest opportunity to spend what you don’t have or didn’t plan on. Sticking to cash helps you stay in control.  With the potential for fewer face-to-face shopping opportunities, you may have to tweak your approach. For example, when you do use a credit card to shop online – a good approach from a safety perspective – shift your cash and pay off the card immediately. When you can’t do that, you’re done shopping.


Be creative. No, this isn’t in my wheelhouse. But whether you’re taking the stairs instead of the elevator to burn calories or looking for ways to finish the holidays with no more debt than you started with, it makes sense to put your imagination to good use. On the gift front, it could be baked goods, coupons for services (can you say parents’ night out!), or even cool photos that capture an important moment or friendship. And what’s wrong with drawing names? This may not work for the little tykes but for grown-ups like you and me it means picking a more special gift for that family member and spending less all around.


Don’t buy what you don’t need.  Whether it’s groceries or gifts we all have fallen into the trap of “if it’s on sale buy it.”  This year, to avoid blowing your diet and your budget, add a qualifier: it must be on your list. In other words, try to buy stuff that you intended to buy anyway while it’s on sale. Don’t expand your shopping spree just because something seems like a good deal. Doing so is a recipe for extra calories and spending.


So, there you have it. Incorporate these techniques and you’ll be smiling all the way through the holidays and right into the New Year … without a big chunk of new debt or a winter “coat.”  And remember, with a couple of months still to go, it’s not too late to start saving.


About the Author: JJ Montanaro is a Certified Financial Planner® professional and part of the Military Affairs team at USAA. He’s a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and has over 20 years of financial planning experience.


Related link:

5 Reasons to Check Your Credit Heading into the Holidays