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Consumer Trends

Poll: Many Americans say they’ll decrease their holiday spending in 2021

But almost half say they’ll spend about the same as in 2020, while a small number will spend more

Summary

Although a lot of people said they will spend less on the holidays this year, best laid plans often go awry. Time will tell what they do once they’re in the holiday shopping frenzy.  

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Spending during the holidays is almost like breathing for many people – they have to do it.

But according to a new CreditCards.com poll, about 1 in 5 Americans (21%) plan on forking over less than they did in 2020, while almost half (48%) said they will spend approximately the same and some (13%) will go hog wild and spend even more.

The main areas in which those polled plan to cut back include decorating (21%), entertaining (18%), gifts (17%) and travel (16%).

Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com, said there’s often a disconnect between what people say they’re going to do and what they actually do, which we have seen in recent consumer sentiment and spending data.

For example, Rossman said, the University of Michigan’s widely watched consumer sentiment index has been at or near 10-year lows the past several months, but the Census Bureau’s monthly retail sales figures are near record highs. (The September 2021 results were about 14% higher than September 2020.)

Even though people say they’re worried about things like inflation and supply chain disruptions, they continue to spend robustly, he added.

“I think this will be a strong holiday season for retailers,” Rossman predicted.

Mastercard is projecting holiday sales will be 7.4% higher this year than last and Deloitte is forecasting an increase of 7% to 9%. Last year, U.S. consumers spent a record $789.4 billion on the holidays, according to the National Retail Federation, and that was 8.3% higher than in 2019.

The bottom line, Rossman said, is that the pandemic has led to sharp increases in retail sales (thanks to stimulus payments), less spending on travel and other services and people spending more time at home.

Here are some other noteworthy results from our holiday debt poll:

  • Holiday debt? No problem. About four in 10 (41%) of U.S. adults who celebrate the holidays said they’d be willing to go into debt, or deeper into debt, for shopping. Almost half (45%) said it’s to make themselves happy, 41% said it’s to make their children happy, 41% said it’s to make their spouse or partner happy and 44% said it’s to make another friend or family member happy. Of those cardholders who already have credit card debt, more than half (60%) said they would add to it for the holidays.
  • Kids and partners come first. The average holiday shopper with children under 18 plans to spend $276 per child on gifts, and the average holiday shopper with a partner plans to spend $251 on them.
  • People are willing to cut costs. A huge number of respondents (76%) said they are willing to consider options to lower their gift costs. The methods they plan to use include seeking out coupons and store sales (42%), limiting gift exchanges to immediate family members (39%), giving homemade gifts (24%), re-gifting (14%), buying used or secondhand items (14%) and skipping gift-giving altogether (11%). Of those willing to cut their expenses, 82% already have credit card debt.

The survey of 2,485 adults, including 2,257 who celebrate the winter holidays, was conducted online between Oct. 13-15, 2021. See survey methodology.

Holiday spending is a tradition

Laura Adams is a personal finance expert at USInsuranceAgents. She said consumers might intend to spend less than last year, but will ultimately spend the same or more. When faced with tempting holiday sales, inflated prices and the propensity to self-gift, many Americans will end up overspending and racking up serious debt, Adams added.

She said decorating and entertaining are categories where Americans may cut back the most this holiday season because they want to avoid hosting large gatherings due to the pandemic.

“But the fact that 60% of survey respondents with credit card debt are willing to pile on more supports the idea that holiday overspending is a tradition that many aren’t ready to break,” Adams said.

Rethinking how you give can help you save

Melanie Musson, finance expert at Clearsurance, pointed out that 2020 was a record-breaking holiday sales year, so reality did not line up with consumer expectations.

The current rate of inflation will make it even more challenging to reduce spending during the holidays, Musson said. Exploring alternate gifting options is one of the best ways to stay committed to your resolution to spend less. If you buy the same things you bought last year, they’ll cost more money.

“If you rethink how you give, you can definitely cut your spending,” she said.

Self-gifting equals self-care

“Self-gifting is a rising trend that fits right into a couple other broader themes: early holiday shopping and prioritizing self-care,” Rossman said.

“When retailers start their holiday sales early, it often encourages people to buy things for themselves.”

Brad Cummins, owner of Insurance Geek, said it’s expected that we’re more willing to pay full price for an item for a loved one than we are for ourselves, so we often wait until things are marked down before treating ourselves to that cozy new sweater.

But with more retailers offering early winter sales this year than ever, it’s likely that self-gifting statistics will be high. Another reason for this is mental health: This year, we all learned the importance of putting ourselves first and the practice of self-care.

“After the pandemic, we all deserve to treat ourselves to that extra little something as we return to normal, especially with the cash we’ve saved on our daily commute or vacations,” Cummins said.

Using credit cards for holiday spending can be tricky

Anthony Martin, CEO and founder of Choice Mutual and Forbes Finance Council member, maintained that anyone who is using their credit cards during the festive season could be in for a world of debt if they’re not careful.

Because people won’t be traveling as much as before the pandemic, they will be spending more on gifts, he said. Coupled with gifting things to yourself, this could lead to high balances you can’t immediately pay off. That’s why Martin strongly suggested making a plan to pay off that debt prior to accruing it.

Ways to holiday gift giving cut costs

The holidays are a tough time to watch your spending, but there are plenty of ways to cut costs.

Consider the following:

  • Consider applying for a card with a 0% intro offer on purchases or a solid balance transfer card to give you more time to pay for the things you buy.
  • Set a holiday spending budget and stick to it.
  • Cut down on the number of people you’ll actually get gifts for – and make or bake something for the others on your list.
  • Use your credit card rewards to buy gifts.
  • Look for coupons and sales promos and browser extensions like Honey, Rakuten or Capital One Shopping for additional online savings.
  • Give someone the gift of your time, in the form of a gift certificate for babysitting or a homemade meal – or volunteer time in the name of a friend or loved one for their charity of choice.
  • Some shoppers will inevitably end up with credit card debt post holidays. If you’re in that number, make a plan now to pay it off sooner than later. Start the new year on track financially and you’ll really have something to celebrate.

Survey methodology

CreditCards.com commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,485 adults, including 2,257 who celebrate the winter holidays. The survey was conducted online between Oct. 13-15, 2021.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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