What’s Your Budget for the Holidays? Here’s How Much Others Are Spending

Family with one kid enjoying a Christmas shopping
Martin Dimitrov/Getty Images

The period between Halloween and New Years is notoriously expensive.

And we’re not talking “Oh, I just went a little over my budget” kind of expensive. We’re talking three months of financial recovery kind of expensive.

According to the annual holiday spending forecast published by the National Retail Federation, holiday spending in the U.S. may top out at a whopping $682 billion this year.

That’s up as much as 4% from last year’s $655.8 billion, proving that we, as consumers, are getting pretty bold in the face of the economy’s continual upward swing.

In contrast, holiday spending in 2008, during the height of the recession, dropped 4.6% from the previous year to $501.5 billion (unadjusted).

The Where, the How and the How Much

According to a follow-up survey from the NRF, consumers estimate they will spend an average of $967.13 this holiday season. That number is up, too, from the $938.58 consumers said they would spend during the 2016 holiday season.

Consumers estimate they will spend 49% of that on gifts for family, while gifts for friends, coworkers and others will make up about 13% of holiday spending. Eleven percent will be spent on food and candy for holiday meals and treats, while another 6% will be spent on decorations. (The rest will be spent on greeting cards and postage, “other” gifts, flowers and potted plants and regular non-gift household spending.)  

The survey also revealed a relatively low 27% of consumers say their spending will be influenced by economic concerns in the U.S. — down from 32% in 2016 and the lowest since the NRF began asking that question in 2009 during the recession.

What will influence their shopping habits? The ease of internet shopping. According to the survey, 59% of consumers will do their shopping online — surpassing department stores as the number one shopping destination for the first time in the history of the NRF’s holiday shopping survey. (This makes sense given the trend we’re seeing these days in retail.)

Another possible contribution to the shift away from major retailers, however, is the growing movement behind shopping at and supporting more local businesses. According to the NRF, 25% of those surveyed said they would be shopping for the holidays at small and local businesses this year.

One way or the other, the most popular time for holiday shopping is November. Almost half (42%) of consumers say they planned to start their holiday shopping around Thanksgiving.

And to be honest, I’m not sure who I feel worse for — the people who froze their buns off waiting in line for Black Friday deals (been there, refuse to do that again) or the 2% of people who admitted that they won’t start their holiday shopping more than two weeks out.

The Costs of Holiday Spending
Kristy Gaunt / The Penny Hoarder

Survey Says…

If you — like me — are still stumped on what to gift your friends and family over the holidays (and don’t want to wait until the last minute) the NRF was kind enough to survey the general population to give us some ideas.

Sixty-one percent of consumers said they would like to receive gift cards (because who knows you better than you?!) while 55% said they would enjoy receiving clothing and accessories. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed said they would like to receive books and other forms of media, 33% want to be surprised with electronics and 24% are hoping for decor and home furnishings.

If you’ve already bought nice-smelling shampoo for your brother and a chainsaw for your aunt, it’s probably not too late to switch the gift tags on those. According to the survey, humans are still at least a little stereotypical: Overall, men would rather receive athletic equipment and home improvement tools, while women would prefer jewelry and personal care and beauty items.

But what does a survey of 7,349 random consumers know of your Aunt Linda’s penchant for cutting down trees? When it comes to holiday shopping, go with your gut, folks.

Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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