How Does Your Holiday Spending Compare to the National Average?

Financial IQ, Trends

The holidays are rapidly approaching and stores have already begun preparing for the year’s largest shopping season. Post-holiday debt seems to be a widely accepted part of the season, and many consumers are left ringing in the New Year reeling from the aftermath.

This year, I am determined not to fall into this trap. By analyzing last year’s average consumer spending and taking a look at my own personal finances, I am committed to sticking to a reasonable budget. With all the holiday festivities and pretty shiny things in the windows, it’s easy to get carried away. For me, knowing what my fellow consumer’s spending habits are is the best way to keep things in perspective.

According to the National Retail Federation, in 2010 the average American spent an average of $690 on holiday spending.

Gifts for Family

At an average of $393.55, the NRF found that more than half of the consumer’s entire holiday budget was spent on gifts for family members. This doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise, as most big-ticket items are purchased for family members such as children, spouses and loved ones.

Some of the most popular items from this category included video game systems, jewelry, electronics, and vacations. It’s easy to see how quickly these costs can escalate.


Food is the second highest holiday-related cost. Last year the average American spent $86.32 on food and candy.  While I expected this number to fall lower in the ranks of holiday spending, once the cost of contributing to holiday parties (especially if you host your own), potlucks, work and school functions are factored in, it’s easy to see why this category takes a substantial slice of the holiday budget.

Gifts for Friends

Last year, the average consumer spent $71.45 in this category. I have to admit that I was surprised that consumers spent less on gifts for friends than food. I can’t speak for every consumer, but my personal circle of friends has decided not to exchange gifts for the past few years. Perhaps we will revisit the tradition during more fruitful economic times.


Holiday decorations consumed $41.51 of last year’s average budget. This is a broad and wide-ranging category, but some of these items include, but are not limited to:

Gift wrap and ribbon

Mistletoe and garland

Christmas Tree

Christmas lights and ornaments

Gingerbread houses

The next time my husband complains about the boxes of Christmas decorations taking up space in “his garage”, I’m going to remind him that we are saving money by reusing those items year after year.

Gifts for Co-workers

Oh, the dreaded office gift exchange! Consumers spent approximately $18.26 on small gifts for bosses and co-workers, which comes as no surprise. As holiday budgets get smaller and smaller, cutting costs from this category seems like a no-brainer.

Other Gifts, Greeting Cards and Postage, and Flowers

These three categories added up to $77.78, with “Other Gifts” ($34.82) eating up the majority of that figure. It’s easy for miscellaneous postage fees and last minute gifts to throw a wrench in the holiday spending plan. Although, with careful planning and budgeting overspending in this area is avoidable.

After seeing the breakdown of last year’s consumer holiday spending, I have a much better perspective on the average American’s holiday costs and I am confident that this year I will be able to stay within my budget.

How does your holiday budget compare to last year’s average?

Have you budgeted your holiday expenses yet? Here is a hand worksheet that will get you started.

Morgan is a freelance writer and blogger living in Southern California with her husband, two daughters, and flock of backyard chickens. You can read more of her at The Little Hen House.



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