Once again, Americans are opening up their wallets for the holidays.
The buzzing stock market, sturdy consumer confidence, and heftier lines of credit are all pushing shoppers to add another present beneath the Christmas tree. Consumers are primed to spend more than $900 on holiday gifts this year, according to Gallup, the most since onset of the Great Recession, and a $121-year increase from the year before. More than a third said they’ll buy more than $1,000 worth of stuff this year for the holidays.
Which is a problem.
Americans are ramping up Christmas spending while having little in the way of emergency savings, and without much evidence that holiday shopping actually brings more joy to those involved. Rather than spending hours in traffic, scanning Amazon, or jostling other miserable shoppers at the mall, you’d be better off helping your friends further establish financial security this yuletide season.
How much do you spend on holiday shopping?
Gallup found that more than half of Americans will dish out greater than $500 on gifts this year. At the same time, only 41 percent of adults would be able to pay for an unexpected emergency expense like a car repair out of savings, according to a Bankrate survey. And our savings rate has dropped precipitously over the past two years.
Part of the problem is that Americans aren’t getting much in the way of pay raises, even as unemployment levels fall. Almost 44 percent of families carried a credit card balance in 2016, according the Federal Reserve’s latest survey, a 5.8 percentage-point uptick over the past three years. This debt load increase coincides with climbing interest rates, meaning you pay more when you revolve your debt, further eroding your ability to save.
Why is holiday shopping stressful?
Overextending yourself for the holidays would be one thing if spending more made you happy. But it turns out we’re not buying happiness with all this gift-giving.
In the short term, it produces a lot of anxiety.
Buying a gift for everyone on your list is three times more stressful than traveling for the holidays. That is, you’d much rather brave long TSA lines and cramped airplane seats than worry about making your uncle happy.
In fact, three fifths of Americans said they would spend more time with their family and friends if they’d spend less time buying them stuff, while seven in ten would put a halt to the whole gift tradition altogether if they could.
What you should get your kid for the holidays?
There’s a reason we put so much pressure on ourselves to buy the perfect present for our loved ones: It’s what’s expected of us.
There is a ritual to the whole endeavor. We stress about what to buy, schlep through lines, pull all-nighters packing the presents, open the presents for an hour or so on Christmas, and then quietly add the new present to our accumulated collection of stuff.
Try resetting expectations this year.
Take some of what you’d spend for your kids or your spouse, and instead use that money to open a high-yield savings account.
Give the account a name, preferably what you’d expect to use with the savings. Maybe it’s called “camping trip” or “Rihanna tickets” or “Beach house.” People are only half as likely to give an experience compared to something that can wear or watch, even though we prefer concerts to gadgets.
Plus you’ll teach your kids about the value of saving. A Christmas Miracle, indeed.