Military Survey Explores Holiday Spending Habits

By The Numbers

Between travel, shopping and making memories for the kids, it’s easy to get caught up in over-spending during the holiday season. Every family deals with budgeting constraints and financial concerns, and military families are no different.

To better gauge the financial confidence and spending habits of military families, we recently conducted a survey of 584 service members about their financial plans for the upcoming holiday season. We also conducted the same survey last year, so we have a benchmark to help us analyze trends and track changes over time.

The results show that many military families are feeling pinched financially and plan to spend less money this holiday season than last year. However, that’s not necessarily bad news – spending less money around the holidays is a good indication that they’ll carry less debt into 2017.

Ready to dive into the results? Be sure to check out the infographic below for a visual representation as well.


This holiday season, 85% of survey participants said they plan to spend the same or less as last year. That’s a significant increase from 2015 when 73% said the same thing. The primary reason, according to 28% of respondents, is that rising costs of food, utilities, health care and other basics have left them with less spending money.

However, there is some good news here. Last year, 15% said they were spending the same or less because of concerns about job stability. That number has been cut in half, down to 7% in 2016. Families reporting pay cuts or fewer hours account for another 7%, down from 12% in 2015. While many military families are feeling the constraints of rising costs, fewer respondents are worried about their job security, reduction in work hours or pay cuts.

This year, far more military families are planning to stay home for the holidays than in 2015. 42% of participants say they will not be travelling during the holidays, up from 28% last year. This is another explanation as to why many families plan to spend less money this year, as travel can be one of the most expensive aspects of holiday spending.

When asked how they expect to pay for holiday purchases, 74% of respondents planned to use cash, up from 68% in 2015. Nearly half of them said it’s because they saved up money along the way in 2016, which is refreshing to hear. Paying with cash can be an easy way to avoid accruing debt, and military families may be using this strategy to stay within their budgets. For shoppers who plan to use credit for their purchases, four out of 10 say they will use new credit, while three out of 10 say they plan to use existing credit lines. In either case, using credit responsibly is a great way to establish a positive credit history. If you’re considering using new credit for holiday purchases, look for store cards that give you a discount at certain retailers. You should also consider reward systems and interest-free promotional periods. Just be sure to make your payments on time to avoid fees and interest.

We saw a slight increase in the number of families who say they plan to take advantage of Black Friday sales, with 41% of respondents planning to shop for gifts on the day after Thanksgiving, up from 37.5% in 2015. Shoppers willing to wake up early and stand in long lines on Black Friday are rewarded with door buster deals. But, it’s worth noting that shoppers can also find great deals with far less hassle on Cyber Monday, when online retailers offer discounts to entice shoppers.

Overall, military families have a slightly different outlook on their finances going into the 2016 holiday season. Not all the news is bad, with more families reporting increased job stability and fewer reporting cuts to pay or hours than in 2015. But more families are feeling strains to their budgets due to rising costs and, as a result, plan to stay home for the holidays and find other ways to save money. It’s a sign that good budgeting habits are on the rise, with more families planning to take advantage of deals to make their money go farther, and more expecting to cover holiday purchases with cash they saved up this year.

If your family is feeling the same pinch, check out our Holiday Spending Planner for a wealth of free information and resources to help you manage your holiday budget.



About the author: Allen Usry

Air Force Chief Master Sergeant (ret) W. Allen Usry began his military career in the Marine Corps in 1982, and then went on to serve in the Oklahoma Air National Guard and United States Air Force. During his nearly 30 year career he service in a variety of positions including Command Chief Master Sergeant for First Air Force (CONR/AFNORTH) and as Command Senior Enlisted Leader (CSEL) for NORAD and United States Northern Command. Allen retired from active duty on 1 Jan 2012, and currently serves as a consultant for Pioneer Services, sharing his wealth of knowledge to military personnel around the nation.

Contact: Allen Usry


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