How Your Finances Change in the Winter
The winter months bring substantial changes in our behavior and our spending. Learn winter saving tips to get a handle on your cold-weather finances.
February 3, 2022
For many of us, the winter means cold weather and trying to stay cozy. That might make us turn up the thermostat or order in when we don’t want to venture out. These tendencies could lead to spending more money than we do in other seasons.
Interestingly, cold weather may even affect our decision-making skills when it comes to shopping. A study in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research found that when we’re cold, we tend to make more emotional rather than rational decisions.
But while spending tends to tick up in the winter, it doesn’t necessarily have to. By following some helpful tips and being intentional about your spending, you can get through the winter while maintaining your financial goals.
This article will cover some of the common reasons why your household expenses might go up in the winter months. We’ll also discuss some winter saving tips to help you maintain your household budget.
How spending increases in the winter months
Every household is unique in how they spend their money. Even so, we can look at nationwide averages to see the different areas where spending may increase in the winter months. Here are some of the most significant categories.
Heat & utilities
Perhaps the most obvious change in the winter is our heating bill. As temperatures drop, many of us pump up the heat which can increase utility costs significantly.
Winter utility bills are typically higher than spring, summer and fall bills — and for the 2021/2022 winter, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is warning that things will be worse than usual. U.S. households that use natural gas may pay up to 50% more than last winter due to surging energy prices.
Fortunately, along with those warnings comes additional help for low-income households. The White House has provided additional funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps cover home energy bills for those experiencing financial strain.
If you are struggling to pay your heating bill this winter, be sure to look into federal and state programs that may help.
The seemingly back-to-back-to-back holiday season combined with shopping events like Black Friday consistently cause our spending to increase. In 2021, the average American household was expecting to spend an average of $998 for the holidays — $648 of this figure was just for gifts.
Food & drink
Common holiday practices in the U.S. almost always revolve around family, friends and food. For many households, this also means rising costs for specialty food items, festive drinks and alcohol.
With grocery prices up approximately 5.6% since winter 2020, food spending this winter may hit American wallets harder than usual.
In the cold and wet winter, many of us are far more likely to drive everywhere rather than walk, bike or take public transit. This adds up to higher gas and auto maintenance bills.
Plus, American households planned to spend approximately $1,800 on average on holiday travel and flights in 2021.
In the summer months, there is plenty to do outside — much of which is free or very low-cost. But as winter sets in, we’re far more likely to go to the movies than to go on a hike. For many households, this can translate to higher entertainment spending in the winter months.
Winter saving tips
While many households can expect spending to increase in some of the above categories, we can get a handle on things by utilizing winter saving tips to cut down on spending.
How to save on winter energy bills
Higher energy costs are a significant contributor to increased winter spending. Fortunately, there are several ways to save money on electricity in winter.
Check your home for drafts and air leaks.
Turn off the heater when you leave the house, or turn it down if you live in a very cold climate and frozen pipes are a concern.
Utilize space heaters when you only need to heat one room of your house.
Close heating vents in rooms you don’t use frequently.
Keep warm with heavy clothes or blankets.
Invest in thick drapes or thermal curtains.
Let the sun in during the day, and close the drapes at night.
Consider using a smart thermostat.
Only run full loads of laundry.
Invest in an energy-efficient water heater, or adjust the temperature down.
Invest in other energy-efficient appliances — check Energy Star for details.
Upgrade to LED light bulbs — an Energy Star light bulb will use around 90% less energy than a standard bulb, saving you $30 to $80 over the lifespan of the bulb.
How to save on winter food and drink
Family gatherings, take-out food and splurges on alcohol can really add up over the winter months. Here are some ideas to cut down your spending in this category.
Consider nontraditional meals — for example, skip the turkey in favor of a rotisserie chicken or a vegetarian dish.
Host holiday potlucks to share the cost of food.
Shop at budget and wholesale retailers like Grocery Outlet, Costco or Sam’s Club.
Choose happy hours instead of full dinners at restaurants.
Skip the bars and host your own cocktail party.
How to save on winter entertainment
Winter is a time to gather and be merry, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune. Here are some cheap things to do in the winter with friends and family.
Host a board game night.
Have a potluck.
Go on an outdoor winter adventure.
Go ice skating.
Have a snowball fight.
Host a shared cooking party — you could make pizza, cookies, etc.
Host a holiday cookie swap.
Play video games with your friends.
Host a “nostalgia night” with old movies and retro foods from your childhood.
Our guide to budget-friendly activities has even more ideas.
Winter weather will always bring some changes to your household, but it doesn’t need to mean a huge increase in your spending. Follow the winter saving tips in this article to cut down on your expenses. You can also find other ways to save on monthly expenses in our guide.
Another powerful way to reduce your monthly expenses is to pay off high-interest debt. Credit card payments can eat up a huge chunk of your monthly budget.
Tally† is an app that may be able to help you manage these payments and get on a path to financial freedom by offering a lower-interest line of credit. Tally helps qualifying Americans consolidate and pay off credit card debt more efficiently. Learn how it works here.
†To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. Based on your credit history, the APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% - 29.99% per year. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.