Holiday spending wins and woes

Principal’s annual survey examines how American workers are holding up this holiday season

Reflecting on 2017, there are some natural high and low points, especially when it comes to spending and saving. The Principal Financial Well-Being Index: American Workers (PDF), took a deep dive into these trends to get a sense for how American workers are planning for the holiday hubbub.

Holiday spending wins

This year 53 percent of American workers plan to manage their money by setting a budget for holiday gifts. This is up slightly from 51 percent last year. They also report a higher level of planned giving, with 63 percent planning to donate money (up from 56 percent last year) and 25 percent planning to volunteer (up from 19 percent last year).

Both of these decisions may contribute to lower stress this holiday season. Forty percent say their holiday spending will put no stress at all on their personal financial situation (up directionally from 35 percent in 2016). Fifty-two percent believe holiday expenditures will cause moderate stress, and only 8 percent say they expect holiday expenses will put a great deal of stress on their personal financial situation.

“It’s exciting to see people wanting to give back and pay it forward. Holidays are a good time for people to reflect on their overall personal finances and look for opportunities,” said Joleen Workman, vice president of retirement at Principal Financial Group®. “We’re encouraged to see people taking action and making strong plans this holiday season.”

This year 80 percent of American workers plan to make at least one financial New Year’s Resolution, up from 73 percent last year. The top financial resolutions selected from this year’s list are to1:

  1. Save more each month
  2. Pay off credit card debt
  3. Reduce spending each month
  4. Save more for retirement
  5. Build an emergency fund

Top financial New Year’s resolutions for 2018

Graphic stating that survey respondents said their top five New Year's resolutions are, 1. Save more each month, 2. Pay off credit card debt, 3. Reduce spending each month, 4. Save more for retirement, and 5. Build an emergency fund.

Holiday spending woes

Nobody’s perfect. In 2017, as in past years, there were a few areas where American workers feel they fell flat.

The top chosen financial blunders of 2017 were:

  1. Not saving enough
  2. Accumulating credit card debt
  3. Taking on more debt
  4. Spending outside my means
  5. Not budgeting properly

Top 5 financial blunders of 2017

Graphic showing what survey respondents said their top financial blunders of 2017 are, 1. Not saving enough, 2. Accumulating credit card debt, 3. Taking on more debt, 4. Spending outside my means, and 5. Not budgeting properly.

And these blunders lead us to the top selected budget-busters of 2017:

  1. Dining out
  2. Food/groceries
  3. Travel
  4. Clothing/apparel/shoes
  5. Entertainment

Top 5 budget-busters of 2017

Graphic showing survey respondents said their top budget-busters in 2017 were, 1. Dining out, 2. Food/groceries, 3. Travel, 4. Clothing/apparel/shoes, and 5. Entertainment.

“While people are reflecting on their finances, they get a chance to identify what areas they can improve upon,” added Workman. “All of these spending missteps are things that can be helped by solid planning. And based on the number of American workers making financial New Year’s Resolutions, I’d say people are planning to start the New Year off right.”

Want more information?

Check out our full report for more information.

1 New response options have been added for 2017

Principal Financial Well-Being IndexSM: American Workers (Q4 2017)

About the Principal Financial Well-Being Index

The Principal Financial Well-Being Index: American Workers surveyed 1,111 adults aged 18 and over who work at companies with 10 to 1,000 full-time workers. This nation-wide Index is part of a series of studies Principal has commissioned since 2000 examining the financial well-being of American workers and business owners. The survey was conducted online by Harris Poll® from October 23 – November 2, 2017.

About Principal®

Principal helps people and companies around the world build, protect and advance their financial well-being through retirement, insurance and asset management solutions that fit their lives. Our employees are passionate about helping clients of all income and portfolio sizes achieve their goals–offering innovative ideas, investment expertise and real-life solutions to make financial progress possible. To find out more, visit us at

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