Despite the return of student loan payments, a rocky economy and the continuing pressure of inflation, U.S. consumers plan on spending this holiday season—exceeding 2019 figures for the first time since the pandemic, according to the 2023 Deloitte holiday survey.
Perhaps aiming to shake off pandemic austerity and make this season memorable, the survey showed consumers plan to spend an average of $1,652, with 75% planning on purchasing something for themselves.
While you might be more motivated to deck the halls this year, Maureen Kelley, director of family office services with BOK Financial®, suggests taking an intentional approach.
"Nobody wants to come out of holidays having overspent," said Kelley. "We know that debt can be extremely stressful, and especially around the holidays when we're optimistic and joyful, spending can get out of hand quickly if we're not careful."
To avoid overspending, Kelley suggested planning early, creating a list of goals and setting a budget—all of which help stave off impulse purchases. She also recommends communicating the plan with family and friends.
“If we talk about it and make agreements around what it's going to look like, we can hopefully let go of the holiday perfectionism we all put on ourselves.”- Maureen Kelley, director of family office services with BOK Financial
Kelley admits setting limits can be challenging, even for her. "Gift-giving is my love language," she said. "I have to be thoughtful and disciplined about not overdoing it because I want to make my loved ones happy. Being intentional in my spending is a gift to myself."
All that glitters is not gold
There's good reason to avoid overspending this season—we're a nation stressed about money, and it's only worsening. 67% of adults currently experience significant financial stress, according to The American Psychological Association's 2023 Stress in America survey with 18-34 year-olds reporting the highest levels of money stress (82%). Both rates have increased since 2019.
The coming weeks will likely exacerbate matters, Kelley said.
"Anxiety around the holidays and holiday expenses is magnified right now," said Kelley, a certified financial therapist. "We're all facing economic and cultural issues that differ from past years, but the advice continues to be the same: be clear on what you can spend, and then set budgets and expectations accordingly."
Leaning into the spirit of the season
If you want to spend less this season, now is a good time to reorient yourself and your family to a revised definition of happiness.
"One of the most important emotions we can demonstrate and be conscious of is gratitude, not just for material things, but perhaps health or the ability to be with loved ones,” she said. “Instead of focusing on what we may lack, look to what we have and can be thankful for—and that creates a more joyful experience.”
Kelley said some of her clients will take trips to be with family instead of purchasing many holiday gifts this year. To help younger family members appreciate the value of the visits, they're also reducing the gift-giving to one or two special items per child.
"Many people are saying they want to direct more of their spending toward experiences instead of simply more stuff," she said.
The gift of peace
Start planning for travel, gift giving and entertainment as soon as possible—before the emotions kick in, Kelley suggests. Then, once you've outlined your game plan, give yourself the latitude to enjoy the season.
“Being intentional really helps eliminate the stress, but once you've made those preparations, give yourself permission to feel good about how you're spending that money and how it positively impacts the family.”- Maureen Kelley, director of family office services with BOK Financial
"It's a great opportunity to reinforce your family value system, especially with regard to what you can give to impact others' lives and showing gratitude for what you have."
In addition, the measured approach tends to offer rewards into the New Year.
"Those families that are more intentional and put more meaning behind their holiday giving have also found the silver lining on the other side of the season," Kelley said.