7 Ways to Spend Smart This Unique Holiday Season

Decorations are hitting store shelves and toy catalogs are appearing in mailboxes.

Piggy bank wrapped in Christmas string lights via Getty Images

Decorations are hitting store shelves and toy catalogs are appearing in mailboxes. With uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic during the coming winter months, consumers may feel concerned about how to handle gift buying this year.

A new survey from PwC US found that 55% of consumers will spend the same or more this holiday season, and 40% will spend less. More than half said COVID-19 is at the top of their lists of concerns about holiday shopping, but an overwhelming majority (88%) said that if stores have health and safety procedures in place, they will feel safer while shopping in-store. Still, 60% say they will visit fewer stores than they normally would.

Whether you’re hitting the stores in person or doing more online ordering, smart spending is never out of style. Here are seven ways Virginia Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) recommend you can develop a spending plan and avoid drowning in post-holiday debt:

7. Create a spending plan.

While it’s not rocket science, you should determine at the outset what you can realistically afford to spend. Decide who you will buy gifts for this year and how much you will spend on each person. Then stick to your plan.

6. Categorize your spending plan.

Your holiday spending plan shouldn’t just include gifts. Don’t forget to account for all the “accessories” that accompany holiday gifts like wrapping paper, bows and tape. Doing some socially distant entertaining this year? Then be sure to budget for those expenses. Don’t forget a category for any charitable giving you usually do as well. Holiday cards and postage are also often overlooked as part of the budgeting process.

5. Avoid impulse buys.

Try to do some research about when and where the best place is to buy the gifts on your list. Store flyers and door-buster sales can offer big savings if you’re willing to do the legwork to find the deals. Watch online retailers, which are already launching holiday sales early. Plan and start shopping now so you don’t feel pressured to grab something at the last minute that will ultimately cause you to blow your budget. With the pandemic, no one knows how slipping delays could affect gift delivery, so order early if you can.

4. Keep track of spending.

Little items here and there can tip you over the top of your budget. Track as you buy so you always have a mental note of where you are in your spending process. And definitely keep those receipts in case a gift recipient needs to make a return or exchange. If you find yourself going over your limit, where can you cut back to make up the difference?

3. Think outside the gift-wrapped box.

Talk to your loved ones about establishing traditions where the focus is on spending time together, not spending money. Make gifts for each other, make plans to attend a cultural event or volunteer together post-COVID, draw names for a gift exchange instead of buying gifts for everyone, or pool funds and make a donation to a charity you all support.

2. Plan how you’ll pay.

Ideally, create your budget and stick to it by paying with cash or a debit card. Average purchases using cash/debit cards are about 15% less than credit card purchases. But if you’re like many people who want to stack up air miles or points on your credit card, be sure you can pay off your credit card bill when it arrives in January. Pay on time and in full to avoid finance charges, late fees and exorbitant interest rates.

1. Use holiday budgeting as a teachable moment for your children.

Include your children in the planning process so they learn to prioritize expenditures, evaluate options rationally and have buy-in on major purchases and charitable giving selections.


The Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants (VSCPA) is the leading professional association in the Commonwealth dedicated to empowering CPAs to thrive. Founded in 1909, the VSCPA has more than 13,000 members who work in public accounting, industry, government and education. For more information, please visit the Press Room on the VSCPA website at vscpa.com or call (800) 733-8272.