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The holidays are fast approaching, and for many of us, it’s time to do some gift shopping. Retail sales in the months of November and December have grown every year since 2009 — and they reached $936 billion in 2022 — according to the National Retail Federation. If you have many gifts to buy, it’s easy to lose track of how much money you’re putting into your shopping.
A recent Bankrate survey found that 23 percent of Americans who will be winter holiday shopping feel it will place a strain on their budget, and 13 percent feel pressured to spend more than they’re comfortable with. And the state of the economy doesn’t help: The same survey found that inflation is changing purchase decisions for 33 percent of holiday shoppers.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and guilted into overspending during the holidays, but you don’t have to break the bank buying gifts to make those special holiday moments. Here are some insightful holiday spending statistics and six tips to help you manage your Christmas shopping this holiday season.
Key holiday spending statistics
- More than one-third (37 percent) of holiday shoppers plan to start shopping in November. (Bankrate)
- Of those who plan on holiday shopping this year, 33 percent say that inflation will impact their shopping decisions. (Bankrate)
- Lower-income groups are feeling the effects of inflation at a higher rate. More than one-third (36 percent) of holiday shoppers with under $40,000 in annual household income say inflation will change how they shop, versus 28 percent who make $80,000 or more. (Bankrate)
- More than half (53 percent) of U.S. holiday shoppers plan to charge at least some of their holiday purchases to credit this year. (Bankrate)
- Many holiday shoppers plan to employ money-saving tactics this year. Among those who will do so, these tactics include seeking out more coupons, discounts, and sales (41 percent) and buying fewer items (42 percent).
- Holiday retail sales have increased every year since 2009 — and they grew 5 percent in 2022 over the previous year to $936 billion. (National Retail Federation)
Save money in advance
Over one quarter (27 percent) of holiday shoppers don’t expect to have money set aside for holiday expenses, Bankrate’s survey found. Younger shoppers are the ones most likely to have a holiday spending budget:
- Generation Z (ages 18 to 26): 33 percent
- Millennials (ages 27 to 42): 26 percent
- Generation X (ages 43 to 58): 26 percent
- Baby boomers (ages 59 to 77): 26 percent
One way to save for holiday shopping is to set up a dedicated savings account early in the year. Transferring money to a high-yield savings account from each paycheck can help you continue to save and earn the best return on your funds.
Another option is to use a credit card throughout the year for earning cash-back rewards. This can provide a source of spending money for holiday-related purchases. In fact, around one in five shoppers (19 percent) plan to use credit card rewards to offset the costs of holiday shopping, Bankrate’s survey found.
The best credit cards can yield hundreds of dollars in cash back per year — enough to pay for a significant portion of your holiday shopping bill.
Make a budget
You can sock away money throughout the year for holiday gifts, but without a budget for shopping, there’s still a chance you’ll overspend. Unfortunately, Bankrate’s survey found that nearly 1 in 4 (23 percent) of holiday shoppers said the shopping will strain their budgets, and 19 percent plan to use a credit card and pay it off over multiple billing cycles.
To avoid taking on debt, make sure you have a clear understanding of how much you can spend on the holidays, and then make your Christmas budget.
“When establishing your holiday budget, check old credit card and bank statements to see what you spent last year,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst. “Include everything — gifts, holiday parties, special meals hosted or attended and travel expenses.”
Looking at your past spending will give you an idea of how much to spend this year for each person and for other holiday expenses. And, as you make your budget, remember that you don’t have to buy for everyone.
Money tip: Set your budget and make a shopping list before you begin buying holiday gifts.
Do your holiday shopping early
Doing your holiday shopping long before Christmas week is a great way to avoid stress, crowds and overspending. According to Howard Dvorkin, Chairman of Debt.com, the best window for holiday shopping is between October 1 and December 1. If you do your shopping in this period, you’ll still be able to take advantage of holiday sales such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and you’ll also give yourself enough time to shop without feeling the pressure of a time crunch.
“Don’t wait until the last minute,” says Dvorkin. “Give yourself time to compare prices and find the best deals.” And while other people are scrambling to get their shopping done by Dec. 24, you’ll be able to attend to other holiday details.
In addition to having more free time around the holidays, and better chances of getting good deals, a benefit of shopping early is that there’s a greater chance the items you’re seeking will be available in stores.
When you shop at the last minute, however, you won’t have much time to compare prices or wait for things to go on sale. What’s more, you’ll likely have a smaller selection of items to choose from.
If you plan to start shopping early this year, you’re in good company: Half of holiday shoppers plan to start shopping by Halloween, according to Bankrate’s survey, which was conducted in August. In all, 12 percent reported they had started, or would start, in August, while another 12 percent planned to start in September, 26 percent in October, 37 percent in November and 13 percent in December.
Look for discounts and free shipping
If you’re on a tight budget, be sure to compare prices on gifts before purchasing them. Also, seek any discounts that may apply to you, such as those for new shoppers as well as teachers, students, veterans or senior citizens.
Online shopping has increased in popularity over the years. This year, more than two-thirds (39 percent) of holiday shoppers will do most of their shopping online — compared with just 23 percent who’ll do most of their shopping in person — Bankrate’s holiday shopping survey found.
Online shoppers will find deals during the weeks leading up to the holidays, such as on Cyber Monday. Ways you may be able to save include discounts or coupon codes, which often can be found directly on merchants’ websites or on sites such as RetailMeNot, Rakuten, Slickdeals and Capital One Shopping.
You may also be able to avoid shipping charges by combining purchases or during a free shipping promotion. Free Shipping Day is an annual event that occurs for one day only in mid-December (this year, it’s on December 14), during which some retailers offer free shipping and guaranteed delivery by Christmas.
Make sure to go into all sales armed with a list, and stick to it. Only buy gifts for which you have a recipient in mind. Avoid impulse buys, and don’t be seduced by holiday sales pitches.
Look at other holiday gift options
One way to keep your holiday gift budget under control is to set a spending limit for all your family and friends who are giving each other gifts this Christmas. If everyone is spending the same amount, no one will feel like their gift is worth too little or too much.
“Limit gift exchanges to immediate family members,” says Mark Hamrick, Bankrate senior economic analyst. “Even then, make sure that all potential targets for gifts in your family actually want to continue to exchange items. Some might want to forgo the process. The thoughtful sharing of your personal time could well be more valuable than ‘things’ to some.”
Consider giving a group gift if you want to cut back without completely eliminating gifts. This means that instead of buying a gift for each family member, buy one gift the entire family can enjoy. Examples include a game, tickets to an amusement park or a new TV. Look for a good deal on such items.
Buying fewer items in such a way can save both time and money. In fact, nearly half of parents (42 percent) who are holiday shopping plan to buy fewer gifts this year, Bankrate’s survey found.
Consider homemade gifts and experiences
Buying the things on your loved ones’ wish lists may make an impression in the short term, but often those gifts are forgotten in the long term. In fact, 15 percent of holiday shoppers are planning to make gifts or crafts this year, according to Bankrate’s survey.
“Homemade gifts, potentially less expensive than those bought in store, can generate every bit as much gratitude, or even more so,” says Hamrick. “People appreciate the time, thought and effort that goes into making them.”
Start a holiday tradition that you and your loved ones can enjoy every year. These experiences usually don’t cost anything but time. However, what they give in memorable moments is priceless.
“Downsize holiday spending, not your holiday joy,” says Mari Adam, a certified financial planner. “Limit the size of your Christmas in terms of gifts, and make it big on meaning — from family to friends, traditions and creating memories.”
Frequently asked questions
Shopping several months in advance can help you score the best deals on gifts. Half of the holiday shoppers surveyed by Bankrate in August 2023 said they planned to start winter holiday shopping by Halloween. An additional 37 percent indicated they planned to start in November, while 13 percent said they would wait until December.
How much money you spend on Christmas gifts depends on your budget. Before shopping, create a plan for how much you want to devote to each recipients’ gifts, which can keep you from overspending or going into debt for your purchases.
Always look for deals, whether you’re shopping online or in person at stores. Compare prices at different stores for every gift you intend to purchase. When shopping online, look for sales, coupon codes and free shipping opportunities.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,423 adults, of whom 1,906 planned on shopping for the holidays. Fieldwork was undertaken between Aug. 8-10, 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighed and are representative of all U.S. adults (ages 18+). The survey was carried out online and meets rigorous quality standards. It employed a non-probability-based sample using both quotas up front during collection and then a weighting scheme on the back end designed and proven to provide nationally representative results.