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We've all been there, you’re wandering around Target at 11PM the night before Christmas. The store is packed with shell-shocked shoppers, the endless static of maddening holiday music plays loudly, the shelves are in disarray, and an angry mob of people bicker over who gets the last for-sale Nikon DSLR. You wonder whether or not martial law has been enacted yet.
The fact is, it’s madness. Everyone wants the Christmas goods without breaking their wallet and it's difficult to know if your over or underspending on gifts.
The National Retail Federation estimates that the average person will spend $935.58 on gifts this year—up 5 percent from 2015. Additionally, these numbers don’t include the travel costs. In 2013, it was estimated that Americans spent 72 billion on “obligatory” holiday air travel.
What about those who aren’t flying? Well, those numbers are still staggering. It's estimated that 98.6 million people are traveling over 50 miles to ring in the holidays with family. That means gas and car rentals, among other annoying necessities, like making sure your old clunky sedan doesn’t break down in the middle of the road.
So, are we spending too much on holiday gifts and travel? Just over $1000 on gifts alone may sounds like a lot, but anyone who has ever attended a large gathering over the holidays knows that shopping for a large family is can be costly. According to The Washington Post, etiquette specialists say that you must spend at least $25 for nieces and nephews, $15 for close friends and $20 for the in-laws. So, what happens if you’ve got a huge family? You’re in for it.
So, what are you spending on gifts and holiday travel?
I talked to 10 people about how much they’re spending this year on holiday gifts, if they’re budgeting, and what their shopping habits are like.
“I’m not planning to spend more than $200-$300 and I'm only shopping for my immediate family and a couple of close friends who want to exchange gifts. I buy almost everything online because Amazon has free shipping and I can get the presents to my parents' house easily.”
“10 percent of my monthly salary. I am sacrificing that this month instead of money usually spent on non-food entertainment.”
"The plan is to keep it under $1,000. Local, handmade, and art when possible.
I have teenagers so I am just trying to have a guideline. (Even if unrealistic!) I do most of my shopping near my house, online, Etsy."
“I never spend over $300 on Christmas, and I only spent $150.00, exactly evenly, on my two children. I shop ahead of time, usually in November, and I only shop sales. The more I could save, the more gifts I could get.”
“I spent $2000 this year, plus $1200 on international travel. I always buy gifts for each close family member, my girlfriend and maybe one or two friends. I try to budget, but I don’t if the gift is perfect.”
“I spend around half a paycheck, which for me comes out to about $1000.00. I have a lot of bills to pay but this is the one time per year I can really be thoughtful toward my family. I don’t buy for friends — we just have a dinner gathering — but for family, I do go all out. I spent about $100 per person. I love showering people with things! I usually get it back in spades. That’s the perk of having a family who takes gifts seriously.”
“In November, I send a wishlist Google doc around to my friends and family. I tell them my budget (it changes per person) and I ask them to link me to something they want. It’s practical, they get what they want, and I get to use amazon.com, which gives me deals and free shipping through Prime. I’m not romantic about it. My total budget is $600.”
“I have a system that works really well for me. I have a full-time job plus a freelance, side job. I work my normal hours, take a bit of each paycheck in December and 100% of my freelance money for that month and put it toward my gifts. I try to get more side work for this purpose. But I do let it adjust my budget per person. I usually spend about $700 then, each year.”
“I don’t have tons of money, so I try to do something hand-made. I make art. I make hats and scarves. I make jewelry. So I spend what I need to on supplies and make enough for everyone. I usually spend about $75-100 on supplies and that goes a long way.”
“Around $500 for my two kids. My husband and I budget between our two pay periods on November 30 and December 15. I do the bulk of the shopping online, usually through Amazon and eBay, and my husband and I do the rest at local businesses or small independent stores. We tell our kids they’re only getting a certain amount of gifts so they know what to expect (but sometimes we go over it). My husband and I don't get each other gifts. All we want is one quiet night where the kids are at grandma’s and neither of those options cost a thing.”
While it may be anecdotal evidence, based on the above responses, it’s safe to say people really are spending an average of about $900 on gifts.
But in the end, the money doesn’t matter. It really is the thought that counts. And hey, if you get something good — be thankful. If you don’t, though, remember to never accidentally re-gift it back to the giver. That’s just awkward.