Though the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and the economic fallout continues to build, Christmas spending is still expected to be high. The National Retail Federation found that in 2020, consumers plan to spend an average of $997.79 on gifts and other holiday items — quite a pretty penny when you consider that the median weekly salary in the U.S is $994 before taxes.
If history repeats itself, some consumers will end up accruing debt from their Christmas purchases; A survey from The Ascent by The Motley Fool found that 21.5% percent of respondents went into debt over Christmas in 2019.
Though financial experts urge consumers to budget to avoid landing in debt over holiday sprees, it’s easy to see how even the most organized shoppers can underestimate just how shockingly expensive decking the halls can be.
Last updated: Dec. 23, 2020
The CDC continues to urge Americans to avoid traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic , but if Thanksgiving, which saw droves of travelers despite the CDC’s urgent warnings, was any indication, people will still be hopping on planes to visit loved ones this Christmas.
According to research from The Points Guy, the price for domestic flights between Dec. 19 and 26 averaged around $312 round-trip. Flights for the Dec. 23 to Jan. 2 period were higher, averaging $388.33 round-trip.
Holiday Hotel Rooms
The hospitality industry has been crushed by the pandemic, with occupancy rates falling by 56% in March. Depending on where you’re traveling to, there might be some confusion about hotel restrictions during the pandemic. The CDC has standard protocol for hotel operators and workers, but details are vaguer from the guest’s perspective, and ultimately, while most hotels are open right now, they are adhering to social distancing guidelines and heightened sanitation. Hotels have also been pivoting to monthly rentals to weather the pandemic.
This is all to say that it’s not possible to give a blanket average for how much a hotel in the U.S will cost you, but in general, travelers can expect to pay less than they would have in 2019. But less doesn’t mean cheap and certainly not free. A casual stroll through Booking.com shows that a Christmas Day stay at a Hilton near LAX is around $122 to $129 a night.
Holiday Gift Giving
We might not be gathering with one another in person this year, but we will still be buying one another gifts, and from the looks of USPS, which is overwhelmed with holiday shipping demand, we’re sending up a storm.
According to the NRF, $650 of our nearly $1,000 2020 holiday budget will be spent on gifts. The most popular gifts this year, according to Amazon, are books, tech and arts and crafts goodies. USA Today reported that Apple AirPods Pro are flying off shelves, as are Kindles, Dutch Ovens and Nintendo Switches.
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If you don’t know what to buy for the hard-to-shop-for people on your list, you’re not alone. Last year, Americans spent more than $9 billion on gift cards, a full third of annual gift card sales, according to Packaged Facts.
You might even score one or more yourself. Another $7 billion in gift card sales is from employers purchasing cards to give to their employees.
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Candy and Food
From the candy canes adorning the Christmas tree to the pumpkin spice latte warming you up on your walk home, there’s no shortage of edible delights that we’ve come to strongly associate with Christmas. Add it to our bill, please.
In November, sales at grocery stores rose nearly 2% to $63.48 billion, while food and beverage store sales upped 1.6% month over month to $71.37 billion. Research from the snack foods giant Frito-Lay found that 77% of consumers said they’re likely to buy snacks online this holiday, and the vast majority of Americans (83%) plan to spend the same or more on groceries during the holidays.
Our sweet tooth also comes into play. Shoppers spent an average of $150 on seasonal candy at convenience stores last year, and we’ll likely surpass that this year. The National Confectioners Association found that Halloween candy and chocolate sales were up 13% in the weeks leading up to Halloween this year. We could see the same trend with Chocolate Santas and peppermint bark.
More than 100 years ago, Hallmark introduced Americans to the idea of Christmas cards in envelopes mailed to their loved ones. Though Christmas greeting card sales have declined since their heyday in the 1980s, they’re still big sellers. This year, 38% of shoppers will purchase greeting cards, according to Statista.
Greeting cards are a perfect example of a deceptively pricey item. The average greeting card costs $2 to $4. Multiply that by all your loved ones and tack on the cost of postage and you could be looking at a steep expense.
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Decking the Halls
Holiday decor can literally brighten your surroundings, and in a year that’s been lived largely in lockdown, it’s an appropriate splurge. Zina Kumok, a financial coach at ConsciousCoins.com, told GOBankingRates that holiday decor is her favorite holiday expense — especially in 2020.
“It makes me really happy to see signs of the holiday around my house, whether it’s my tree or the Christmas headbands I put on my dogs,” Kumok said. “Even though I only use the decorations for a month out of the year, they make me really happy. And during a time when we’re all spending more time at home, I think those expenses are worth it.”
According to findings from Alliant Credit Union, in 2019, Americans spent an average of $227.26 on nonholiday gift purchases such as decorations. The NRF projects that spending on decor will be slightly up this year, averaging $230.
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Flowers and Plants
If you guessed that Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day topped the flower industry’s largest sales days, you’d be mistaken. The winter holidays — including Christmas and Hanukkah — account for the largest percentage of all holiday flower sales, at 30%, or about $2.28 billion. This time of year also sees around a quarter of all cut flowers sold in the year. The most popular Christmas plant is the poinsettia, which costs around $2.11 per plant for producers.
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Non-Gift Purchases for Self and Family
From ironic ugly sweaters to pine and cinnamon candles, there’s a lot of random buys that add up when celebrating Yuletide season. The NRF found that the average U.S consumer will spend $117 this year on non-gift purchases, excluding holiday decor.
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Throwing a Holiday Party
Holiday parties are mostly out of the question this year, but in normal times, these shindigs can rack up a hefty bill. The average American party host spends $1,422.65, according to 2019 survey from BJ’s Wholesale Club, on a total of seven parties per year . By that math, each party — fueled with booze and food — costs about $203.23.
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Jodi Thornton-O’Connell contributed to the reporting for this article.