Survey: A Third of Holiday Shoppers Are Cutting Back Their Spending

30% say their holiday gift list is smaller this year

holiday shopping wasting money
Making a list and checking it twice can keep you from wasting money over the holidays. Photo:

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As fewer people travel to see family and friends for the holidays this year, some are reevaluating the number of gifts they plan to give. According to a recent survey of The Balance’s newsletter readers, nearly one third said they will include fewer folks on their gift list this year compared with last holiday season.

Respondents for this survey—who are mostly female, with half of them between the ages of 24 and 55 years old—said they are purchasing gifts for seven people on average. While 57% of our readers said this is consistent with the number of presents given in 2019, 30% said their gift list has shrunk since last year. 

This is consistent with general holiday spending, as 32% of our readers said they will be spending less overall this holiday season. The most common reason for less spending, unsurprisingly, was the pandemic. Half of those surveyed said COVID-19 has taken a toll on their finances, and one in five experienced job loss this year.

Reduced Travel Cuts Into Gift-Giving

More than half of those surveyed said they typically travel during the holidays, but only 17% of them are traveling to see their loved ones this year and 9% said they were unsure of their travel plans.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended Americans postpone all travel, noting that travel can increase the spread of COVID-19. “Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others,” it said. 

More than a third of those spending less on gifts this year said it’s because they are going to see fewer people this holiday season. Meanwhile, nearly a fifth said their friends and family aren’t asking for their usual gifts due to the pandemic.

COVID-19 Inspires Generosity

While some of our readers are cutting back this year, others have opted to increase their holiday budgets. One in five survey respondents said they plan to spend more this holiday season. When asked why, the most popular answer was, “I want to be more generous this year.”

How People Plan to Pay for Gifts

When it comes to payment, more than half of our readers plan to use credit to pay for gifts and nearly a fifth of them plan to dip into their savings.

Among those who plan to use credit cards, 77% plan to pay their balance immediately, while 18% plan to carry a balance. Cash-back rewards cards remain popular with holiday shoppers, representing nearly half of all credit users who responded to the survey.


This survey was fielded from 11/20/2020 to 12/08/2020. Respondents are newsletter subscribers (U.S., 18+) who were planning to purchase gifts this holiday season.

  • Age: Gen Z 3% | Millennial 25% | GenX 30% | Boomer or older 42%
  • Region: Midwest 23% | South 31% | West 23% | Northeast 23%
  • Gender: Men 23% | Women 74% | Nonbinary/self-describe 1%
  • Background: White 73% | African-American/Black 8% | Hispanic/Latino 7% | Asian or Pacific Islander 6% | Native American or Alaska native 1% | Mixed race 3%
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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Domestic Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic."

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