How much are Americans spending this holiday season?

November 16, 2021

By Maggie Tomasek

How much are Americans spending this holiday season?

holiday shopping, holiday season spending, cost of holidays, Christmas shopping

Gifts. Decorations. Travel. There are so many fun things to spend money on this time of year. But just how much are Americans spending this holiday season? Let’s take a look.

After seeing overall holiday sales increase 8.2% in 2020, the National Retail Federation (NRF) expects Americans to spend 8.5% to 10.5% more this 2021 holiday season, bringing overall holiday spending between $843.4 and $859 billion. (Note: These spending calculations exclude auto dealers, gas stations and restaurant purchases.)

Despite the pandemic, consumers are spending above the five-year average for gift spending, prioritizing friends and family over spending on themselves.

Online shopping continues to be a big choice for consumers during the holiday shopping season. 57% of people say they plan to make their holiday purchases online, down by 3% from 2020. 47% of people say they plan on getting their holiday purchases from department stores.

(In case you’re wondering what the holiday shopping season includes, it covers all of November and December, including four major holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.)

Why are people increasing their holiday spending in stores? After the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, shoppers could be more nostalgic for an in-person holiday spending experience.

Retailers expect demand to be high, so shoppers are advised to shop early. However, if you’re late to the game and something is out of stock, you’re still in luck. For the 15th year in a row, the majority of consumers say they would prefer gift cards and gift certificates as a present.

PRO TIP: Start looking ahead. Take advantage of after-Christmas sales to grab birthday presents, anniversary gifts, etc. (When you plan ahead, you can avoid impulse purchases down the road.)

Holiday gifts, self-spending and more

Based on NRF’s annual consumer spending survey, Americans plan to spend an average of $997 this year, down 5% from pre-pandemic spending in 2019 ($1,007.24). Spending falls into three major categories:

  • Gifts for family, friends and coworkers: $648
  • Non-gift holiday purchases such as food, greeting cards and decoration: $231
  • Other non-gift purchases for themselves and their families: $118

PRO TIP: Set a holiday spending budget. Start the holiday season by creating a budget and deciding what you’re going to specifically spend on gifts, decorations, etc. Avoid splurging on something that’s not on your list just because it’s a good deal. Also, follow these tips to protect yourself from fraud this holiday season.

Thanksgiving dinner costs

Gathering around the table is, of course, a tradition for many families on Thanksgiving, and that ain’t free, either. In 2020, a “classic” Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people cost about $48.91, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual informal price survey.  

The cost was down for the fourth year in a row. And that’s mainly because the holiday’s main event – the turkey – was even cheaper. A 16-pound turkey, at $20.80, was down 4% from 2019. Although this year, the cost of a Thanksgiving meal is expected to be higher than last year’s.

At less than $5 per person for the whole meal, that’s not too shabby. However, the estimate only included the “classic” basics – turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk – so throwing in special delicacies or alcohol can push that cost much higher.

PRO TIP: Remember all of your grocery savings tricks. Don’t let your usual shopping savvy fly out the window just because it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas. Grab store circulars, clip coupons and stick to your shopping list to get the most out of your holiday dinner grocery budget.

Drivers dominate holiday travel

So we’ve covered the gifts, the decorations and even the food. The remaining big-ticket expenses Americans incur during the holiday season are all travel-related.

In a typical year, according to the U.S. Travel Association, the top leisure activity for U.S. domestic travelers is – surprise! – visiting relatives. Travel is predicted to be significantly up this winter season. Their forecast predicts that domestic leisure travel will surpass pre-pandemic levels in 2022.

In 2021, AAA predicts that a whopping 53.4 million Americans will travel for Thanksgiving – which is within pre-pandemic travel volume.

Of those travelers, 48.3 million were expected to drive, 4.2 million will fly, and the remaining 1 million will travel on cruises, buses and trains.

The top domestic destinations this Thanksgiving will be Orlando, Anaheim, CA, and Dallas.

PRO TIP: Check out our post on how you can save money on your next road trip.


Check out these holiday spending tips:

Maggie Tomasek is the special projects marketing manager at Alliant. She began her career as a sports journalist for newspapers in Utica, N.Y., Des Moines and Cincinnati before moving to Chicago in 2009. Maggie is a six-time Chicago Marathon finisher and a lifelong creative writer with a passion for comedy. Her mom instilled in her a great sense of fiscal responsibility, and her big sister told her to throw that responsibility out the window every once in a while in the name of life experience. So far, that combination of financial advice has worked out pretty well for her.

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