According to many Americans, there’s no time like the present to begin preparing for the winter holidays. One in two (50 percent) holiday shoppers plan to begin or have already begun making purchases before Halloween, according to a new Bankrate survey.
Some holiday shoppers aren’t deterred by sweltering heat when they look for gifts — 12 percent have or plan to start shopping before the end of August, while 12 percent plan to start in September. Another 26 percent of holiday shoppers plan to begin shopping in October.
Black Friday is traditionally the start of the holiday shopping season, and 37 percent of holiday shoppers still plan to begin their holiday shopping in November, while 13 percent are planning to squeeze in shopping in December.
The stress from buying gifts, decorations and other holiday goods is dampening the holiday cheer for many people, too: two in five (40 percent) holiday shoppers expect to feel financially burdened this year.
Specifically, 25 percent of shoppers say they’re stressed about the cost of holiday shopping, 23 percent say it will strain their budgets and 13 percent expect to feel pressured to spend more than they’re comfortable with.
While September feels early to be talking about holiday shopping, it’s actually very smart to start thinking about holiday shopping well ahead of time. If you haven’t already, begin putting a list together of what you want to buy and how much you can afford to spend.— TED ROSSMAN | BANKRATE SENIOR INDUSTRY ANALYST
Bankrate’s key holiday shopping insights
- Credit cards are king this holiday season. 53% of holiday shoppers plan to pay for at least some of their holiday purchases with a credit card. 64% of these shoppers say they will pay the bill in full before interest accrues.
- Americans are thinking of inflation less when holiday shopping this year. 33% of holiday shoppers say inflation will change the way they shop in 2023, compared to 40% of shoppers who said so in 2022.
- Presents will be delivered by mail, not reindeer. 39% of holiday shoppers plan to do most of their shopping online, while 23% plan to do most of their shopping in person.
- Parents of younger kids feel a bigger financial pinch this holiday season. 31% of holiday shoppers with kids under 18 are stressed about the cost of holiday shopping. Only 25% of adults without children and 23% of parents of adult children say the same.
- The hottest holiday activity in 2023 is coupon cutting. 87% of holiday shoppers plan to use at least one money-saving strategy: 42% plan to buy fewer items; 41% plan to seek out more coupons, discounts or sales and 30% plan to begin their holiday shopping earlier.
Half of holiday shoppers plan to start shopping by Halloween
Nearly four in five (79 percent) Americans plan to shop for the holidays this year, purchasing gifts, decorations and other goods. Of those people, 50 percent plan to begin their holiday shopping in October, September or have already started by the end of August:
Not everyone plans to shop for the holidays before fall. Most commonly, 37 percent of holiday shoppers plan to begin holiday shopping in November. Another 13 percent plan to sneak in some last-minute shopping in December.
If you’re considering when to begin your own holiday spending, Bankrate Senior Industry Analyst Ted Rossman recommends shopping for the holidays earlier to make budgeting easier.
“Use time to your advantage so that you can set a good budget and comparison shop for the best deals. And aim to set money aside from each paycheck between now and the end of the year to help avoid a holiday debt hangover,” Rossman said.
More than half of holiday shoppers will use credit cards this year
More Americans will use their credit cards this holiday season than any other payment method: 53 percent of holiday shoppers expect to purchase at least some of their items with a credit card, similar to the 52 percent who plan to use a debit card. A slightly smaller percentage (49 percent) of holiday shoppers plan to use cash for their purchases:
Less commonly, 10 percent of holiday shoppers plan to use a buy now, pay later service and 5 percent plan to pay with checks.
Though the majority of shoppers plan to charge their purchases to a credit card, most don’t intend to go into debt over the holidays. Around two-thirds (64 percent) of those credit card users say they will pay their bills in full before interest accrues.
Keep in mind: Credit card interest can cost you. If paid off over the course of a year at August 2023’s average interest rate, a $500 credit card balance will accumulate $57 more in interest.
Lower-income households will be more likely to shoulder that debt than wealthier households, according to Bankrate. Though the wealthiest households are most likely to use credit cards this holiday season, they’re also the least likely to go into debt over their holiday shopping:
|Annual household income||Percentage of holiday shoppers using a credit card for at least some holiday purchases||Percentage of holiday shoppers using a credit card for holiday purchases, who will pay over multiple billing cycles|
|Source: Bankrate survey, August 8-10, 2023|
|Less than $50,000||41%||49%|
|$100,000 or more||74%||25%|
2 in 5 holiday shoppers feel financially burdened by the season
In 2022, 40 percent of holiday shoppers told Bankrate they were changing the way they shop due to inflation. Rising inflation has eased significantly since then, from 8.5 percent year-over-year in July 2022 to 3.2 percent year-over-year in July 2023, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Now, only 33 percent of holiday shoppers say inflation will change the way they shop. Though inflation has less of an influence, holiday shoppers are still concerned about costs. Two in five (40 percent) holiday shoppers say they expect to feel some financial burden in the upcoming holiday season.
Most commonly, 25 percent of holiday shoppers say they’re stressed over costs, 23 percent believe the spending will strain their budgets and 13 percent anticipate being pressured to spend more than they’re comfortable:
Only 13 percent of holiday shoppers aren’t concerned about the cost.
Parents with younger children are experiencing more holiday shopping stress: 31 percent of holiday shoppers with children under the age of 18 are stressed about the cost of the holidays, compared to 25 percent of shoppers without children and 23 percent with adult children.
Some shoppers are trying to reduce stress on their finances by budgeting: 27 percent of shoppers will have money specifically budgeted for the holidays. Among generations, Gen Zers (ages 18-26) are most likely to have a holiday budget:
- Gen Z (ages 18-26): 33 percent
- Millennials (ages 27-42): 26 percent
- Gen X (ages 43-58): 26 percent
- Baby boomers (ages 59-77): 26 percent
39% of holiday shoppers will make most of their purchases online
Online convenience is more popular than beating Black Friday crowds this holiday season. Around two in five (39 percent) holiday shoppers will do most of their shopping online, compared to 23 percent who will do most of their shopping in person.
Shoppers of all generations prefer shopping online, but older generations are more likely to prefer it than younger shoppers:
- Gen Z: 36 percent
- Millennials: 38 percent
- Gen X: 41 percent
- Baby boomers: 41 percent
87% of holiday shoppers will take frugal steps to save money
Regardless if they feel pressured by the cost of the holidays or not, 87 percent of holiday shoppers still plan to do something to save money.
Most commonly, shoppers will buy fewer items (42 percent). Many shoppers also plan to seek out more coupons, discounts or sales (41 percent); start holiday shopping earlier (30 percent); or purchase cheaper brands (20 percent).
Other holiday shoppers are taking a do-it-yourself approach, with 15 percent planning to make gifts or crafts and 10 percent planning to get more used or secondhand items:
Around one in five (19 percent) shoppers plan to use a rewards credit card and 19 percent plan to shop at stores where they have a loyalty account or store-specific credit card.
Rossman sees an opportunity for those with a budget this holiday season to look for points they already have.
“Good savings strategies include stacking discounts — such as combining a rewards credit card with an online shopping portal and a store coupon — and tapping into value that you might have lying around,” Rossman said. “Almost half of U.S. adults have unused gift cards, averaging $187 per person. And nearly a quarter of rewards credit cardholders didn’t redeem any rewards over the past year. Put those gift cards and rewards points to good use.”
3 ways to avoid the pressure to overspend this holiday season
Spending on a budget this winter doesn’t mean you can’t have a memorable holiday. The winter holidays can come with a lot of pressure to spend — 40 percent of holiday shoppers have budgetary concerns this year, including 13 percent who feel pressured to spend more than they’re comfortable. But you don’t need to spend lavishly in order to celebrate the season and show your appreciation for the people in your life. Keep these three tips in mind when making your shopping list:
1. Stick to your budget.
Make a holiday budget, being sure to include all your holiday-associated spending, including gifts, travel, decorations, clothes and activities. Just make sure to stick to it, even if you want to grab a great impulse gift that you saw on TikTok. If you know you tend to spend impulsively on gifts, try setting aside a portion of your budget specifically dedicated to random gifts you find that you think your friends and family would love.
2. Take your time
Many Americans are treating the holiday season like a marathon, not a sprint. Start shopping early this year and let your pricier items sit in your cart for a few days before clicking that purchase button. By avoiding last-minute shopping, you can take the time to make sure each gift was selected thoughtfully and that you’re not overspending in order to get gifts wrapped in time.
3. Choose quality over quantity
If you have random presents collected from extended family and workplace parties in the back of your closet, you know that holiday gifts aren’t always a winner. When purchasing gifts this year, consider purchasing fewer, higher-quality presents that your loved ones will enjoy for years to come instead of more presents to make the pile under the tree larger. Your budget will thank you, and your friends and family will, too.