It’s the most expensive time of the year—Americans divulge holiday money confessions

by | Dec 23, 2019 | Public Relations

Ah, the holidays are upon us! And with people all around the country (and the world) busily purchasing gifts for their holiday occasion, Union Bank reveals findings of a new survey to understand how people are spending their hard-earned cash this season—and dealing with the stress that goes along with it.

“While many of us enjoy spending time with family and friends during the holiday season, it can also be a stressful time of year for many,” said Pierre P. Habis, head of consumer banking at Union Bank, in a news release. “In fact, we find that people feel pressure to overspend and may make poor financial decisions at this time of year, the repercussions of which can linger for months into the New Year. But if we can use the holidays as an opportunity to talk about money, we can learn and adopt better financial habits that will help us all year long.”

Key findings include:

  • 44 percent of Millennials admit to using money as an excuse to not travel home for the holidays.
  • One in five Gen Zers plan to spend big bucks on Mom and themselves, possibly adding up to over $500 spent on the two gifts.
  • Four in 10 respondents admit they feel pressure to spend on people they don’t want to, even more so for Millennials (56 percent).
  • Pets are on par with grandma and grandpa on many holiday shopping lists this year, with about 80 percent of respondents saying they plan to get gifts for their pets or grandparents. Meanwhile, grandparents prioritize their grandchildren, with 96 percent planning to give them gifts.
  • Relationships are lacking communication during the holidays, with half of people in relationships admitting they don’t agree with their significant other about how much to spend on each other.

Spend to impress

The recent survey revealed that although two out of three U.S. consumers will give themselves a budget, it will still take 33 percent of them six months to recover from the holidays and pay off credit card debt. In fact, three in 10 people in the U.S. admit to spending more money than they should just to impress family and friends, and another four in 10 feel pressure to spend on those they don’t want to.

“Having a realistic budget and planning ahead are the best ways to control holiday spending,” said Tonya Rapley, millennial money expert and creator of the award-winning site My Fab Finance, and Union Bank expert partner, in the release. “Start with creating a budget that works with your holiday plans and wallet. Write a list of all the people you want to buy for, and include other related holiday expenses, such as travel costs, hostess gifts, gift wrap, holiday groceries, etc., and set a dollar amount for each. Also, the earlier you start, the more you can shop around for sales and special deals. It’s important to remain focused and resist temptation to add last-minute impulse items when you’re pressed for time or want to make your gift seem more meaningful.”

Mom and me

Mom reigns supreme! Americans are most willing to go into debt to purchase Mom her dream gift, especially those in Gen Z, with 57 percent willing to go into debt compared to Millennials at 33 percent and Gen X at 21 percent. Gen Z will also spend just as much on holiday gifts for themselves as they do on Mom, with one in five planning to spend over $250.

Making the list

When it comes to spending, more than 40 percent of consumers in the U.S. focus gift-giving efforts on their inner circles, specifically family and friends. However, both Gen Z (35 percent) and Millennials (34 percent) are more likely to extend their pocketbooks to their work colleagues, compared to Gen X (28 percent) and Boomers (16 percent).

What do gift recipients really want, though? Despite most U.S. consumers planning to give openable presents to those on their list (66 percent), more Americans would prefer gift cards (51 percent) or cash (45 percent) than a present they can open (41 percent).

Look who’s not talking

Holidays are often a great time to treat a significant other. As with everything in a relationship, communication is key, especially when it comes to setting gift-giving expectations. Sixty-three percent of those in a relationship start the holiday season concerned about over-committing, and half are at odds about how much to spend on each other. A lack of communication from the start also leads to half of those in a relationship believing they spend more on their significant other’s gift than their significant other spends on theirs, with men more likely to think so at 58 percent versus 38 percent of women.

‘Tis the season

The most wonderful time of the year often goes hand-in-hand with overindulgences. U.S. consumers rank their holiday concerns:

  • Debt regret: 77 percent are concerned about over-spending.
  • Holiday food coma: 75 percent are concerned about over-eating.
  • Time crunched: 58 percent are concerned about over-committing to holiday engagements.
  • Holiday hangover: 39 percent are concerned about drinking too much.

Other holiday confessions

  • Man’s Best Friend Indeed!: 81 percent of consumers in the U.S. plan to buy a gift for their pet with 20 percent of Gen Z planning to spend more than $50.
  • Hold the Company Soirée: 54 percent of people in the U.S. would rather skip the office party, considering it a waste of money.
  • Debt-Free Dreams: In a list of dream gifts, over half of U.S. consumers would rather have their credit cards paid off over receiving the extravagant gift of a new car.
  • Guess Who’s Not Coming Home for the Holidays: Three in 10 admit to using money as an excuse to avoid traveling home for the holidays.

The Union Bank Holiday Spending Survey was conducted by global market research firm Edelman Intelligence, and interviewed a nationally representative sample of 1,000 American adults ages 18+. Fieldwork took place from October 11-21, 2019. The margin of error at the 95% confidence level is +/- 3.1 p.p. for American adults.

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Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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