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Holiday Season 2021: How Americans Plan to Spend


Key Takeaways

Anticipated holiday spending is down this year, with 60% of surveyed Americans saying they plan to cut back and 54% planning to spend less than $500 total this holiday season.
The vast majority of survey respondents (81%) say they’re adjusting their holiday shopping plans as a result of supply chain issues.
Millennials and Gen Zers are the most likely to utilize “buy now, pay later” and installment plans. Why? They say they have more confidence in their future financial standing.
People surveyed plan to fund holiday shopping mostly with debit or cash (42%) and supplement with credit (26%).
Most respondents (60%) will be making sacrifices to their financial plan in order to prepare for holiday spending.


This holiday season may wrap up with lighter spending, amidst a supply chain crisis in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the whole, Americans are planning to spend less this year than last year, with a majority saying they anticipate spending $500 or less on holiday-specific purchases, including presents, travel, and parties, according to a recent Personal Capital survey conducted by Morning Consult.*

Despite decreased spending across the American general population, people who use the Personal Capital Dashboard aren’t short on cash going into the holiday season. Worth noting, investors who use Personal Capital’s free financial tools tend to have a higher net worth than the general population; account balances generally follow.


Median account balances (excluding zeros). Source: Personal Capital Dashboard Data as of November 2021, financial accounts by age.**


Those who plan to spend less than $500 likely won’t be squeezing airline travel into their spending plans. Last year, many people postponed holiday travel to avoid spreading COVID-19. Although airports appear full and travel is on the upswing, travel costs have not yet reached pre-pandemic heights, according to Personal Capital spending data.

Blue line indicates spend in the travel category. Source: Personal Capital Dashboard Data as of November 2021, average credit card spend.**

Holiday Spending by Age, Gender & Region

It was more than half of survey respondents (54%) who said they plan to spend less than $500 total this holiday season. In general, even among those who are planning on spending more, a greater proportion (23% vs. 17%) intend to make fewer individual purchases.

This holiday season, the biggest spenders are Millennials, with about half (49%) saying they plan to spend more than last year on the holidays. Nearly a third (32%) of surveyed Millennials say they plan to spend over $1,000 (19% say they plan to spend $2,000 or more).

Baby Boomers are planning to spend the least on the holidays, with only 18% saying they intend to spend more than $1,000 and nearly a third (32%) saying they plan to spend $250 or less.

Women are more likely than men to be on a tighter budget this holiday, with 65% of women saying they plan to spend less than last year (vs. 55% of men). As for big-ticket expenditures, 15% of men said they plan to spend more than $2,000 on holidays, vs. only 7% of women.

Finally, consumers in the West region are more likely to spend more than the other regions. This corresponds to Personal Capital data; three western states fall within the top five states with the highest net worth.

Median Net Worth
1. Washington
2. Alaska
3. Minnesota
4. California
5. Virgina

Source: Personal Capital Dashboard Data as of November 2021, account balances.**

Shopping & Payment Practices

More people are shifting to online shopping this year (63% plan to increase their online purchases). Expectedly, adoption of the more “modern” purchase methods (e.g. online, curbside services) heavily skews younger, with older generations rejecting them quite overtly.

Supply Chain Concerns

81% of respondents say they have made at least some adjustments to their holiday shopping plans as a result of the supply chain issues.

The most common practice is choosing to shop earlier (37%), followed by ordering more online and cutting back on spending. Relatively few people (12%) are changing what they intend to buy. Looking across demographic breakdowns, older respondents (65+) are notably less likely to be planning changes than other age groups.

Also of note, people living in rural areas feel much less concerned than those living in urban areas.

Buy Now, Pay Later

Buy now, pay later” and “pay in installment” plans are used by a minority of shoppers.

Only 13% respectively say they intend to increase their use next year, and most (62% and 60%, respectively) say they didn’t last year and don’t intend to this year. Millennials and Gen Zers are the most likely to utilize these methods of payment.

Looking into the reasons for increasing usage of “buy now, pay later,” respondents said:

Reduce the overall strain on my financials (38%)
I don’t have the funds to pay everything upfront (38%)
To maximize the amount I can purchase with my current financial situation (35%)
I expect to be in a better financial position in the future (32%)

The reasons differ by age. Younger generations use it because they have more confidence in their future monetary situation; older generations are more concerned about their current financial situation.

Payment Methods

Checking accounts and cash are the most popular sources of funding for holiday purchasers, followed by credit cards.

Older generations are much more likely to use credit cards, with their use surpassing checking accounts among those aged 65+.

Financial Compromises to Fund Holiday Buying

Overall, 60% of people say they plan to pare back in order to prepare for the holidays.

Reducing leisure purchases is the most common way people save for the holidays (38%), followed by reducing savings (19%).

Younger generations are more likely to take some kind of action, while older generations feel less financial strain. This may be because, overall, older generations intend to spend less money.

Tips for Managing Holiday Spending

Planning for this holiday season can be summed in two pieces of advice: shop sooner and buy less.

When to Do Your Holiday Shopping in 2021

Buyers, be aware: You may want to get all of your holiday shopping in the bag prior to November 15, advises Evan Quasney, a global VP of supply chain solutions for Anaplan. That’s even before Black Friday.

Although you may save some money on post-Thanksgiving sales, experts caution that unknown shipping times may delay online orders into January.

How to Shop in 2021

1. Reduce overall spend.

Try using the 50-30-20 rule to identify your maximum amount of holiday spending. With the 50-30-20 budget, you assign all your household income to one of three main categories of expenses: needs (50% of your income), wants (30%), and savings (20%). Holiday spend can go into the “wants” bucket, along with entertainment, eating out, vacations, recreation and hobbies.

For travel, try booking on a day when travel is typically cheaper, like Tuesdays and Wednesdays, rather than the weekends.

Instead of splurging on presents, consider meaningful, cost-effective giving instead. For instance, you could create homemade gifts, do a holiday gift exchange for a group of people in lieu of individual presents, or donate to a charity of the recipient’s choice.

2. Buy locally, when possible.

In light of issues with the supply chain, you may be wise to opt for in-person shopping at your favorite local stores instead of buying everything online.

3. Keep a close eye on your holiday spending.

To help you stick to your budget, you’ll want to keep track of your holiday spending from the beginning. You can use free online money-management tools to categorize and track your spending. In this way, you can see how much you’ve spent so far and cross-reference that with how many more gifts you need. At the end of the season, you can quickly see how your intended spending compares with your actual purchases.

Keep Learning

Holiday Spending 101: Survival Guide for Millennials

6 Steps for Creating a Holiday Budget

How to Set Financial Expectations Around the Holidays

*This survey was conducted by Morning Consult and commissioned by Personal Capital.  Interviews took place online between October 22 and October 25, 2021, among a national sample of 2,200 adults.  The sample was filtered by age and gender, and weighted on region, race/ethnicity, and educational attainment, to reflect the national census.  Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

**To obtain this data, Personal Capital analyzed the account balances of dashboard users on an anonymized basis. Data presented represent the median balances, unless otherwise noted, as of November 2021. For location-based data, location was assumed based on a user’s IP address. Certain accounts, such as test accounts, major outliers, and duplicative spousal accounts, were excluded from this analysis. All charts, figures, and graphs are for illustrative purposes only.

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