The holiday season is coming up, and you need a little extra cash to spend on your gift-giving, right?  Don’t we all!  You won’t have to donate plasma or sell your entire wardrobe to put some extra cash in your wallet for the presents you’ll be shelling out on. Making a few healthy changes can add up to hundreds of dollars of savings before the year ends.  If buying a bag of Doritos and heading to the tanning salon sound like a better idea than saving money, then you should probably stop reading.  Hopefully that’s not the case, so here are some ideas to save you money and a trip to the doctor’s office:

### Cook meals at home.

It seriously adds up to eat out a few times a week, whether it’s at your local Chili’s or at a splurge-worthy celebrity-owned restaurant.  Multiply that by what it costs to take a family or a date, and your pocketbook will be crying of its emptiness in no time.

I can’t exactly endorse whipping up a three-course meal at home, since most of my dinners take five minutes or less and occasionally always involve the microwave or toaster.  If you like to cook, however, there are hundreds of meals that are inexpensive to make, require few ingredients, and can be prepared to your liking.   Check out “Sandra’s Money Saving Meals” on Food Network and \$5dollardinners.com for fool-proof ideas.

Besides, have you seen the crazy concoctions restaurants are turning out these days?  Nutritional counts of some of these horrific feasts are weighing in anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 calories per serving.  If you’re going to eat out, just remember that fried and breaded green beans do not count as eating a vegetable, people!

Calculation:

Eating meals at restaurants 3 times a week x \$12 per meal x 5 weeks until Christmas = \$180

Week’s worth of groceries for one =  \$20 x 5 weeks until Christmas = \$100

Savings:  \$80

### Choose better snacks.

How often do you hit the vending machine or grab a few goodies in the convenience store while waiting for your gas tank to fill up?  Every day!?  My ears are bleeding (as is your wallet).  Even if you weren’t a Boy or Girl Scout, I’m sure you know a thing or two about the principle of preparedness.  Your troop leader didn’t teach you about healthy snacking, I imagine, but I’m going to give you a quick crash course in on-the-go treats.

A week’s worth of bananas won’t set you back more than \$2 (only \$1.40 if you shop at Trader Joe’s like me), a pack of yogurt to keep in the fridge at the office and a 6-pack of filling FiberOne bars to throw in your glove box will run you about \$4 each, and a can of protein-rich almonds to divvy up into individual bags costs around \$5.  Stick to the healthy kind, guys – let’s not go nuts with candied and chocolate-covered pecans.

Calculation:

Heading to the vending machine 5 times a week x \$1.50 per item x 5 weeks until Christmas = \$37.50

Picking up convenience store snacks 3 times a week x \$2.50 per item x 5 weeks until Christmas = \$37.50

Week’s worth of snacks for one = \$8 x 5 weeks until Christmas = \$40

Savings =  \$35.00

### Brown bag your lunch during the work week.

Ironically enough, I’m enjoying my very own home-packed lunch as I write this.  And guess what… it didn’t cost me a dime today and I was in control of the nutritional content!  Right now, I’m noshing on some warm tomato soup and a delicious tossed salad.  I bought the fridge-friendly box of tomato soup at Trader Joe’s for about \$2.50 and it’s given me about 4 servings of goodness, while the salad was left over from my Sunday evening meal.  Doing a little calculation and breaking everything down, my soup costs \$0.63 per serving and the long-lasting salad with all the ingredients (from garbanzo beans to cucumbers) was only about \$6.  If I’d gone downstairs to our café here in the Compuware Building, I would have bought a similar meal such as a cup of soup or a salad, either of which would run me at least \$5.  It would’ve set me back even more (at least \$10) if I’d decided to head to one of the many awesome restaurants here in Detroit for my lunch hour.

Calculation:

Buying your lunch 5 times a week x \$7 per meal x 5 weeks until Christmas = \$175

Packing your lunch 5 times a week x \$2.50 per meal x 5 weeks until Christmas = \$62.50

Savings = \$112.50

### Exercise regularly.

Getting regular exercise is so important for your health.  Don’t believe me?  It has an awesome effect on your body, fighting the risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol, improving the cardiovascular system, lowering the risk of cancers and diabetes, strengthening bones, and reducing depression or anxiety.  If that isn’t enough, think about the money you’ll save on not having to purchase bigger clothes and dieting programs, as well as the time you’ll avoid at the doctor’s office (whether it’s your therapist or cardiologist).

If joining a gym scares you, get your run, walk, Rollerblade, or bike on outside for the next month if weather permits.  Something else I occasionally do when I’m not in the mood to venture out of the house is press play on one of the many exercise programs available in the “on demand” programming on my cable TV.  Try doing a few push-ups, crunches, and lunges during commercial breaks or bust out some calf raises while you’re standing at the stove waiting for dinner to cook.  Just get some kind of cardiovascular activity every day and you’ll see improvement by the holidays!

Calculation:

Costly choices: new pair of pants worth \$30 to accommodate your growing size, a \$60 (national average) doctor’s visit, \$10 per week membership to Weight Watchers for the next 5 weeks at \$50, \$15 diet pills

Cheaper alternatives: gym membership at \$40 per month, exercise DVDs at \$10 each, set of hand weights at \$30

Estimated Total Savings: \$50

### Stop smoking cigarettes.

Doctors and the government endorse the fact that smoking is extremely bad for your health, it smells awful, and costs a ton of money!  Need I say more?  I think not.

Calculation:

3 packs of cigarettes per week x \$7 a pack x 5 weeks until Christmas = \$105

Two packages of nicotine gum x \$40 per box = \$80

If you didn’t know, our friends over on Capitol Hill are spreading the word that baking under a faux glow is bad, hence the emergence of taxation on indoor tanning.  Apart from an exorbitant charge to tan, the silly looking goggles, and pricey lotion, tanning has a lot of hidden costs.  Don’t you know it has the propensity to prime your skin for aging, melanoma, and skin cancer?  And let’s face it: orange is probably not your color.

You know what rocks?  You can get a tan without the harmful rays!  I use a sunless tanner that doesn’t look wildly unnatural, leave strange stains on my clothes or elsewhere on my body, and actually doesn’t have that typical self-tanner stench.  I recommend the Jergens Natural Glow line: it comes in a variety of formulas for your skin tone and it has firming properties!

Calculation:

Tanning 3 times a week x \$5 per visit x 5 weeks until Christmas = \$75

One large bottle of at-home tanning lotion x \$12 per bottle = \$12

Savings: \$63 (besides, not getting skin cancer is priceless!)

Another thing I’m trying to do to improve my health that might wreak havoc on medical bills later in life is taking time away from my electronics.  Have I mentioned I like music and that my headphones are in for hours on end each day?  Yeah, that’s probably why my ears ring sometimes.  Headaches and eye twitching are likely a result of staring at my computer screen for long hours.  On top of that, it’s often hard for me to tear myself away from my iPhone, but too-frequent texting is likely to blame for my achy thumb joints.  Someday I’m sure it’ll cost me a lot for all those groundbreaking and cutting-edge medical treatments for arthritis or tendonitis from texter’s thumb.  Can’t wait.

So what are the estimated savings that you can add to your bank account over the next five weeks?  If you’re currently indulging in all of the habits listed above, your savings could total up to over \$375!  Think of all the money you can spend at Toys”R”Us or Best Buy (and on me at Sephora)!  Heck, packing your lunch for the next five weeks could gain you \$112.50 in your bank account and maybe help you lose a few inches around your waistline, so it’s worth a shot!  Tell us how you’re cutting back on unhealthy habits to save money for the holidays –  we’d love to hear!

Stephanie Koske is a writer for Quicken Loans, an amazing place to work.  Find out more about being a part of our team at Quicken Loans and learn how we Amaze our clients.