This year I’ve heard stories of people gaining the “COVID 15.” I’ve experienced it myself. For many of us, an overabundance of stress leads to an overabundance of consumption, in several areas of our lives. Not only does uncertainty trigger unhealthy eating habits, it also triggers damaging spending habits.
If ever there was a year to navigate the holidays in a prudent manner, this is it. The following tips will keep you on course when it comes to eating and spending. The payoff? Starting 2021 without needing to add weight or debt reduction to your New Year’s resolutions.
• Plan wisely. Establishing a daily meal plan and sticking to it can help you navigate a minefield of eating opportunities. To stay financially fit, put a cap on your holiday spending too, by figuring out how much you can afford to spend for gifts before you shop. Ideally, you’re shopping with money you’ve already set aside, but make a commitment to shop within your means, and keep detailed records.
• Make a list. If you don’t buy that pie at the grocery store, it won’t add to your waistline. Likewise, if you can resist impulse buys you won’t add to your debt load. It’s true that the music, aroma of holiday goodies and festive atmosphere can derail even the best-laid plans. So protect your stomach and your wallet by sticking to your list and not adding to it twice.
• Maintain control. Success in the battle of the bulge has a lot to do with creating guardrails. 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 guardrails is to shop using cash only. 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. When it’s gone, you’re done.
• Be creative. 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, 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 kids, but for grown-ups like you and me, it means picking a 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, safeguard your diet and your budget with this qualifier: it has to be on your list. Try to purchase 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 extra spending.
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 extra pounds. And remember, it’s not too early to start saving for next year.
J.J. Montanaro is a certified financial planner with USAA, The American Legion’s preferred provider of financial services. Submit questions for him online.