While the holidays are often thought of as "the most wonderful time of the year," not everyone is excited to break out their holiday decorations just yet. According to the TD Bank 2021 Merry Money Survey, more than half of Americans (52%) describe the holiday shopping experience as painful. Of this group, 33% actually equate the pain of holiday shopping to a root canal.
TD Bank polled 1,004 U.S. consumers to gauge their shopping, spending, money management habits and overall sentiment during the holiday season. The survey found that while Americans are increasingly responsible with their holiday spending, with 73% creating a budget – up from 66% in 2018 – two-thirds (66%) of consumers say the financial aspect of the holiday season makes them anxious.
There's no place like home for the holidays
Perry Como was onto something: there really is no place like home for the holidays. In addition to making Americans more budget-conscious, the pandemic also changed how people feel about the holidays. The survey finds that 84% of Americans felt like celebrating the holidays during the pandemic was more about the time spent with loved ones versus spending money on gifts.
While many are excited to resume in-person events this year, 56% of Americans admit they liked having the excuse the pandemic provided of not having to attend holiday gatherings in recent years. This year, most Americans are looking forward to more intimate celebrations, with 83% preferring small family gatherings. In fact, more than half (52%) wish they didn't have to travel as much during the holidays and another 52% wish they didn't have as many obligations.
On Dasher, on Dancer, on Fido and Mittens
Americans are also thinking of their four-legged family members this holiday season. Sixty-three percent of Americans plan to buy gifts for their pets this year, especially millennials (76%). In fact, 14% of millennials plan to spend more than $100 on each of their pets, making sure to include their furry friends in their holiday celebrations.
The most stressful time of the year
Feelings of anxiety when budgeting for the holidays are especially prominent among younger shoppers, with 79% of millennials saying that holiday shopping makes them anxious, more so than their Gen X (68%) and Baby Boomer (51%) counterparts.
Previous spending mishaps may be responsible for the stress experienced during the holidays. According to the survey, 69% of Americans say they have previously overspent during the holidays and 41% say they experienced a negative financial situation because of holiday spending. An additional 31% have tapped into emergency savings to pay for holiday expenses.
"As people prepare to celebrate the holidays with their loved ones, perhaps for the first time in-person since the pandemic began, there are still many things weighing on their minds," says Matt Boss, Head of Consumer Products at TD Bank. "Holiday shopping, travel, hosting and celebrations all have costs associated – and due to supply chain issues, we're seeing cost increases that will make joining in even more of a challenge for some. Doing what's best for you could mean staying home from travel or scaling back on gift-giving, but it will help make the holiday season more enjoyable. Set your limits – whether financial or personal – and stick to them."
While the holidays can bring pressure to spend, consumers need to stop and evaluate what makes financial sense for them. There are several steps shoppers can take to ensure they are prepared to shop smartly and avoid overspending:
- Don't just make a budget – stick to it: Of Americans who create a holiday budget, more than a quarter (27%) don't stick to it. What's more, only 31% of consumers strongly agree that they feel confident in their ability to create an effective budget for holiday spending. When creating a budget, shoppers should use the tools and resources they find most helpful. A physical planner or notebook was the most common tool cited for budgeting (41%), while others may find digital tools and applications linked to bank accounts useful for staying on track.
- If you're using plastic – maximize those rewards: Forty-two percent of Americans cite using a debit card for most of their holiday spending. While shoppers should use the payment method that works best for their financial situation, using rewards-based credit cards can help shoppers earn cash back or points as they spend.
- Start early: Amid supply chain challenges impacting delivery times and store inventory, 63% of Americans say they'll start their shopping earlier to avoid delays. In fact, 60% say they will shop two months in advance of the holidays. Many consumers start saving early, too – with 63% setting aside money throughout the year for holiday spending by stashing cash in jars, saving gift cards or reward points, or using a separate account.
"Consumers who are spending this year are looking for a deal – 90% of millennials surveyed are planning to shop on Black Friday," Boss adds. "However, more than a quarter of consumers say these sales are the primary reason they overspend, which signifies the importance of not only creating a holiday budget, but also using tools that track spending and help eliminate impulse purchases, no matter how irresistible the deal."