Worries about spending and bills loom as holidays approach

Practicality is in and indulgence is out, the latest Consumer Reports Holiday Poll finds

Published: December 18, 2014 06:00 AM

With Hanukkah just underway, and Christmas and Kwanzaa a week away, most people are cool, calm, and collected as this festive season kicks into high gear, according to the latest Consumer Reports Holiday Poll*. But for 35 percent of Americans, the holidays remain a source of at least some angst. For 10 percent, the stress is overwhelming.

Among those fretting over the holidays, the top worry is not having enough money to cover expenses, cited by 56 percent of respondents. Insufficient time to buy gifts was a distant second (18 percent). Other concerns include getting holiday greetings out in time, travel, an obligation to attend parties, and anxiety over having to host too many people.

Many consumers remain wary of celebrating beyond their means. Forty-four percent of Americans expressed at least some concern about overspending this holiday season; approximately 20 percent were very or extremely concerned about going overboard.

Our holiday polls reveal more surprising trends: Find out what the worst holiday gift you can give is and how much shoppers are ready and eager to spend this holiday season.

That pragmatism is reflected in this season’s gifting trends. Overall, three-quarters of respondents told us they’d rather receive a practical present than a luxury splurge. And if given a choice between getting cash or a gift card, 60 percent said they would take the cash. (FInd out why gift cards shouldn't top your holiday shopping list.

When it comes to giving, 57 percent said they’re buying clothes, shoes, and fashion accessories for those on their list; 51 percent are giving gift cards; 44 percent, toys; 30, percent, cash or check. Only 20 percent intend to buy jewelry.

In what might be perceived as a jab at nostalgia and tradition, natural trees are out and artificial ones are in this year. Among those who celebrate Christmas, 60 percent said they’d rather have a fake. We can only speculate why. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that despite a higher initial cost—an average of $81 vs. $35 for the real deal, according to the National Christmas Tree Association—an artificial tree has a longer life cycle than a one-and-done balsam, fir, spruce, or pine. (Read about what to look for in an artificial Christmas tree.)

Our survey also reveals that most Americans tend to be generous homebodies. Sixty-nine percent said they would rather stay home during the holiday season than go out more often. Fifty-five percent said they would prefer to open up their homes and hearts to host out-of-town guests than have them stay elsewhere. And when the holidays do come to an end, what do people most look forward to? Getting their houses back in order (cited by 23 percent of respondents), getting their spending under control (16 percent), and, predictably, eating more healthfully (12 percent).

Gift gaffes

Since this is, after all, the season for giving, we asked Americans about their most memorable faux pas relating to the exchange of gifts. The most often committed blunder: leaving the price tag on the present (a cringe-worthy slip-up committed by 18 percent of respondents).

Fortunately, not many made the other mistakes we asked about, including regifting an item to the person who gave it to you (5 percent); putting the wrong name on the package (5 percent); and giving too many people who know one another the same present (3 percent). Respondents also blushed at giving recipients defective or discontinued products, expired foods, and luxury-brand knockoffs.

—Tod Marks


What Americans plan to give this holiday season

Clothing, shoes, fashion accessories

57 percent

Gift cards

51 percent


44 percent

Cash or check

30 percent


27 percent

Food or wine

25 percent


20 percent

Electronics accessories (headphones, cases)

19 percent

DVDs or Blu-ray discs

19 percent

Video games

18 percent

Personal electronics (smart phone, tablet, E-book)

16 percent

Pet toys

15 percent

Major electronics (TV, computer, video-game system)

12 percent

Home furnishings/décor items

12 percent

Small appliances (coffeemaker, toaster)

10 percent


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More holiday gift ideas and tips

Visit our Holiday Gift Ideas page throughout the season to find the best deals, time-saving advice, and much more.


About the poll: Results are based on a nationally representative online survey of 1,500 adults conducted in early December 2014 by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. Percentages exceed 100 because respondents could include multiple responses.

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