Christmas Spending 2017: What’s In Your Wallet?

According to the American Research Group, in 2016, Americans planned to spend an average of $929 on Christmas gifts.

Give me a minute so I can catch my breath. Yikes!

I wish these studies gave more statistics like earnings, or how many people are on the gift list. But I get it. As a nation, we spend a lot whether we have the money in the bank or not.

Christmas Spending, monkey photo Copyright: <a href=''>zgurski1980 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

I’m an outspoken advocate of living within your means, and this goes double for Christmas gift spending. It’s hard though. People want to show their love, respect, and appreciation for others.

You buy gifts for kids, parents, siblings, classmates, friends, coworkers, neighbors, garbage collectors, the mail carrier, preachers, teachers, babysitters, and every other person that crosses your path during the holiday season.

Part of the problem, perhaps the biggest problem is that we’re guilted into shopping for people who live in our periphery, then compound the problem by spending even more on loved ones.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t show our appreciation, but we should temper it with a little common sense. If you know you won’t be able to pay off your credit card debt next month, then you’ve gone too far in your holiday spending.

Let me repeat that. If you don’t have the money then you shouldn’t buy stuff.

Don’t let social media, advertisers, and peer pressure force you into spending beyond your means.

My mother is a good example of this. She spends lavishly on grand kids and great grand kids even though she knows she’ll go into debt. I’ve admonished her many times to no avail. Grandmas! What can you do?

Do you know where I buy toys when my nieces and nephews come to visit? Garage sales. They seemed just as thrilled.

One time I did buy a toy at full price, but only because Nana and Iko stole my grand niece’s teddy bear for a tug of war. Fair is fair. My kids destroyed it, so I had to replace it.

Overspending on Christmas is a mindset, something that’s been ingrained in us for many years, so it’s easy to be manipulated by that spending monkey. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable too.

I had a friend who loved to send me gifts. (She lives overseas.) Occasionally, I’d send her a trinket too, but I noticed it was getting out of hand. Finally in the kindest, most diplomatic way I could muster, I told her that it wasn’t necessary to send me things. I knew it had to be a strain on her as it was on me.

Slowly, over a period of a couple of months, her letters came less and less until she stopped writing all together. She never mentioned anything about my request to stop the gift carousel, but I couldn’t help thinking it was directly involved. That was the only part of our relationship that had changed.

There are consequences to quitting the gift exchange game. It’s especially tricky at Christmas, which is why I prefer to give gifts when they’re not anticipated. I think it brightens people’s days when they get a gift for no special reason too.

If you must be a generous Santa, try these tips.

• Get a Christmas job. Everywhere I go there are signs that companies are hiring. Work an extra job for a couple of months and it’ll soften the blow when the credit card statements come in.

• Cook, bake, or sew—but only if you’re good at it. Give gifts where your strengths lie. I am lucky–and overweight because I happen to have friends who are terrific bakers.

• Perform a service. Babysit, shovel snow, or clean a car. Grandparents would especially appreciate gifts like these. Give them a handmade gift certificate for the task, and then be sure to do it when they ask to redeem it.

• Reduce the amount you spend per person.

• Ask that no gifts be exchanged. Instead invite everyone for a big sit down meal and ask each guest to bring a food item and a story about the BEST thing that happened to them in 2017.

(This one is actually my favorite. The best gift of all is the company of good friends.)


How much do you spend for Christmas per person? I think I average around $30 per person, and my list is pretty tiny. I try to fill in the gaps of my extended friends list with homemade meals and baked goodies.




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  1. If I don’t have it, I don’t spend it. I might use the credit card, but I have the money in the bank to pay the bill off when it comes. We spend around $300 at Christmas – cash for the Kid and a small box of goodies, then one present each for the Moms, ordered online and delivered. Everyone else gets cards. We don’t buy gifts for each other anymore.

    Holiday spending has gotten entirely out of control, in my opinion. Christmas and there are gifts for Easter, too. Thanksgiving and Halloween have to be blow-outs. Then again, looking at what people spend on weddings blows my mind. I’m such a Scrooge. But I’m okay with it.

  2. I have to admit.. I’m a giver. I LOVE giving presents. We have 4 kids, their spouses/significant others, 5 grands (and one on the way), and my mom. 15 people just in our immediate family. I try to something to read, something to wear, something they need, something fun.. plus a family gift.. for each person (except my mom.. since her stroke, she no longer reads, but I get her DVDs). The way I handle it is to buy all year long— that way I can buy more without it hurting

  3. I’d be interested to know if that statistic includes buying gifts for charities like Toys for Tots or Angel Family or Senior Shoeboxes, etc. We usually participate in something like that – and thoroughly enjoy it! And sometimes the gifts we buy for other people have a charity/donation spin on them, like adopting an animal.

    • Madeline: This is why these reports are faulty. I’m sure some people do spend upwards of $900 for Christmas, but what are the particulars? If you’re rich, that’s probably nothing. But if you have to carry a balance on your credit card then it becomes a burden you carry for longer than the holiday.

  4. My goal every year is to hand make or bake all my gifts, but I usually spend about $300.00 on things I can’t make, like sending flowers to my Mom. I also try to show my appreciation during the holidays to the people who provide us with service year-round, like the grocery store gift card I give to our rural postal carrier. I do make a donation at Christmas to the local no-kill animal shelter, which I’ll never stop doing. My only other extravagance has been participating in the Secret Santa book exchange on Library Thing.

    I am making some progress this year on curtailing my spending. I still have books I haven’t read from last year’s Secret Santa, so I’m bowing out of that this year. My guy finally agreed to give up gifting each other; instead we’re going for a walk on the beach (which I’d prefer above all material things anyway.)

    I don’t think it hurts to find out if you can skip the gift-giving. I asked my business partner if we could begin our own tradition by simply wishing each other a happy holiday by e-mail this year, and she agreed with obvious relief. But some people do take offense, so it can be dicey.

    • Lynn: The grocery store card is such a good idea! I like that.

      Donating to a no kill shelter is a yearly event for us too. It’s the only thing we refuse to give up.

      My mom is the only one who gets a larger than normal gift. Because she’s elderly, I prefer to give her a large gift card so she can spend it as she wishes. Her needs for material goods has gone down, but she still likes to get her massages and hair done.

  5. Stacy McKitrick

    Last year we spent way too much on our kids, but we bought an iPhone for our daughter (which we bought on a interest free plan) and felt the need to reciprocate with our son & his now wife. This year we won’t spend near as much. Now I just need ideas! 🙂

  6. My Christmas list is very small and even a bit smaller this year. We lucked out that the grandson needed a new crib so we offered to buy it as an early Christmas gift, along with the bedding for it. Didn’t go fancy, bought it at WalMart online, free delivery, I was impressed. A few small gifts for him and others; we’ll probably spend less than $200 on those. Hubby does buy gift cards for his employees so a chunk will go to that close to $500 but its his way of showing appreciation so I have to let him do it, though sometimes I cringe at the expense. Hubby and me don’t exchange, haven’t in years. We buy each other a card (some years). Best idea I liked one year that I proposed to siblings was that we donate to each other’s favorite charities. They did it, but I don’t think it was in their top 5 list of things they would do again. This year we made a shoe box for Operation Shoe Box and we intend to pay off someone’s layaway at WalMart. To me, that is the gift of Christmas. Helping others that might need the help 🙂 We are so blessed, its just good to be together for the day.


  7. I can see how it is very easy to spend nearly a grand for Christmas gifts. This year, my funds will be directed toward moving expenses as me, Chipmunk, and Molly move to a place with a fence. Oh the running that will commence lol!!

  8. I think £20 each for the children, £100 for my wife, and a bottle of wine for the bus driver who stops me off at the door. And that’s it. My wife is more generous. Someone has to be mean. Ref the unexpected presents – you’ve done that for me, and you’re right. They’re the best – though that’s not a hint 🙂

    • Mike: You are a generous husband! Lucky Bernadette!

      re: unexpected presents
      Those are the best I think. No one expects it and if you’re lucky it could come on a day when they need it most. How’s that coon skin cap fitting? 😀

      As for my overseas friend who liked to send gifts. It wasn’t the gifts that were expensive, it was the postage to Indochina and then to America. Sometimes it was more than what we spent on the gift.

  9. I’m an over-spender on Christmas. I don’t mean to be but I get tripped up on my need to “keep everything even”. I’ll end up spending a little more on one of the kids/grandkids than the others so I go back and buy everyone else something extra to even it out. But someone’s something extra will end up costing more than the others and off I go again. It’s a bit like when my dad used to trim my bangs, only in reverse. He’d keep taking a little more off one side to even them out but then that side would be higher so he’d go back to the other side until I had a stubby fringe of hair across the top of my forehead. LOL

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