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How much are Americans spending this holiday season?

holiday shopping, holiday season spending, cost of holidays, Christmas shopping
December 04, 2018

By Maggie Tomasek

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 5.5 percent in 2017, the National Retail Federation (NRF) expects Americans to spend this holiday season another 4.1 percent, bringing overall holiday spending to almost $721 billion. Whoa.

Online shopping continues to be a big choice for consumers. Of people who shop online, 50 percent say they will pick up in-store during the holiday season.

(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? Unemployment rates are low and take-home wages are up. In addition, confidence in the economy is high. 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. The majority of consumers say they would prefer gift cards and certificates as a present.

PRO TIP: Start looking ahead. Take advantage of after-Christmas sales to grab birthday presents, anniversary gifts, etc. (If you don’t see a sale sign, it doesn’t mean you can’t get a deal. Here are four ways you could save money the next time you shop.)

Holiday gifts, self-spending and more

Based on NRF’s annual consumer spending survey, Americans plan to spend an average of $1,007.24 this year, up 4.1 percent from last year ($967.13). Spending falls into three major categories:

  • Gifts for family, friends and coworkers: $638
  • Non-gift holiday purchases such as food and decoration: $215
  • Other non-gift purchases for themselves and their families: $155

PRO TIP: Set a holiday shopping 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 go down

Gathering around the table is, of course, a tradition for many families on Thanksgiving, and that ain’t free, either. This year, a “classic” Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people cost about $48.90, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual informal price survey.  

The cost was down for the third year in a row. And that’s mainly because the holiday’s main event – the turkey – was even cheaper this year. A 16-pound turkey, at $21.71 this year, was down 3 percent from last year.

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 fact, according to the U.S. Travel Association, the top leisure activity for U.S. domestic travelers is – surprise! – visiting relatives. The recent statistics released by AAA echo that sentiment, stating that a whopping 54 million Americans traveled home this Thanksgiving – the highest Thanksgiving volume in more than a dozen years.

Of those travelers, 48.5 million were expected to drive, 4.27 million flew, and the remaining 1.48 million traveled on cruises, buses and trains.

High gas prices are not keeping people from visiting their families. The current national average is $2.76 for a gallon of gas. That’s 31 cents more than the average price a year ago.

Many travelers will take advantage of some vacation days and hit a destination. Where are people headed? The top destinations are Orlando, New York City, Anaheim, California, Punta Cana and Las Vegas.

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


Maggie Tomasek is the PR and Social Media Specialist 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.