Budgeting tips for winter holiday spending

Photo: Getty Images

COLUMBUS, Ohio—While increased expenses that can occur during the winter holiday season can make it hard for some consumers to avoid overspending, higher costs this year have more consumers looking for ways to stretch their budgets while still enjoying the festive season.

In fact, 61% of shoppers said sales and promotions are more important when buying gifts and other holiday items this year compared with last, according to the 2023 Holiday Shopping Outlook released by the National Retail Federation. And many consumers said they plan to begin holiday spending earlier than previous years, with 39% reporting they began holiday shopping before November, the NRF found.

“A large part of why shopping starts so early is because consumers are spreading out their shopping to cover the costs that come with the holiday season,” the Washington, D.C.-based retail trade organization said in a written statement. “Consumers remain in the driver’s seat, and are resilient despite headwinds of inflation, higher gas prices, stringent credit conditions, and elevated interest rates.”

That’s why it’s so important that as you plan for the holidays, you make sure you have a spending plan and are financially prepared and comfortable with your holiday spending, said Beth Stefura, educator, family and consumer sciences, Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

“Festive commercials, emails, and text messages may put you in the holiday spirit, but also affect your holiday budget,” Stefura said in a recent blog post on livehealthyosu.com. The website, Live Healthy Live Well, is a free information resource that offers science-based consumer information and insights written by OSU Extension educators and specialists in family and consumer sciences who promote health and wellness.

“The continuous exposure to festive commercials, fantastic bargains, or limited-edition gifts encourages you to spend money,” Stefura said. “Marketing techniques trigger spending, which quickly ruins your holiday budget.”

Some holiday spending triggers can include special prices on gift sets, marked-up prices that are then discounted with holiday coupons, signs that say an item is “back in stock,” or offering “2 for 1” deals, she said.

One way to effectively manage your money this holiday season is to unsubscribe from marketing emails and text messages, and to be aware of holiday ad triggers. Another is to make a holiday spending list that includes food, baking, decorations, entertainment, travel, holiday cards, charity, and gifts—and then stick to your list, she said.

“Black Friday and Cyber Monday may be spending triggers. Often, we forget we are buying gifts and will purchase items for ourselves,” Stefura said. “Nothing is a bargain if you do not need it, or it was not on the list.”

Here are some other consumer tips to help you formulate a holiday spending plan that avoids financial pitfalls:

  • Make savings automatic. Set aside a portion of your paycheck. Start saving now. Transfer to your savings a set amount of money from each paycheck.
  • Start with a list of everything you’ll be spending money on during the holidays. Include all gifts, foods, drinks, decorations, and charitable giving.
  • Set reasonable expectations. Take a look at your monthly budget, decide how much you can really spend on those holiday extras, and plan your budget accordingly.
  • To determine your holiday spending plan, review what you spent last year. Then, use that amount as a guide for this year. Remember to include all money spent on gifts, foods, drinks, decorations, and charitable giving.
  • Once you’ve created your spending plan, stick to it.
  • After your spending plan is made, prioritize where and how you’ll spend. Be sure to account for everything: gifts, decorations, donations, a new piece of clothing, groceries, and baking.
  • Prioritize. If you come up short, determine where you can do some trimming. Can you forgo new holiday decorations this year? Can you pledge to avoid spending money on yourself when you’re out shopping?
  • If your money is tighter this year than usual, think about starting new traditions that don’t require you to spend as much money. For example, instead of buying for everyone in your family, you can opt for a family gift exchange that will allow you to buy for one person instead of the whole gang. That way, everyone still gets to be involved in the holiday experience. If you need to, adopt a new tradition that requires no money spent at all, such as watching a holiday movie together or taking a festive holiday walk.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute. That’s one of the best ways to go into debt during the holiday season. Take advantage of preholiday sales and free delivery while online shipping.

Lastly, focus on what’s important to you and your family, Stefura said.

“No matter which holidays you celebrate, many feel pressured to make them perfect,” she said. “Social media images of picture-perfect holidays can create unrealistic expectations that are impossible to live up to.”

“Remember, your decorations, your traditions, and your happiness are more important than photos posted on social media sites.”

More consumer tips and helpful information from CFAES experts can be found at livehealthyosu.com and livesmartohio.osu.edu.

Tracy Turner
For more information, contact: 

Beth Stefura