Consumers expected to tighten belt with holiday spending budgets

While the National Retail Federation is predicting a modest 2.3 percent increase in holiday retail sales this year, some consumers are not planning to open their wallets too far - or at all. According to United Services Automobile Association's (USAA) second annual holiday spending survey, half (50 percent) of respondents indicate they plan to spend less (40 percent) or not buy gifts at all (10 percent) this holiday shopping season.

For those respondents who are planning to spend, many indicate they will continue to make smart money moves this year.

The majority (90 percent) of respondents report that they plan to use cash this holiday season, which is up from 85 percent in 2009 and more than double those who plan to use a credit card this year (41 percent).

Of those planning to set a holiday budget, significantly more indicate they will stick to it this year (76 percent vs. 56 percent).

"The survey findings indicate that adopting better money habits as a result of the Great Recession isn't a fad, but more of a long-term trend," said Joseph Montanaro, a financial planner with USAA. "And it's especially important for shoppers to remember basic money principles - like living within your means - as we enter the season of spending."

Consumer sentiment split between optimism and pessimism

The results of this year's survey also show that consumer sentiment remains relatively unchanged since the 2009 holiday shopping season. Nearly half (46 percent) of respondents say that the movie titles "Jingle All the Way" and "It's a Wonderful Life" best describe their approach to this year's holiday budget, compared with 48 percent last year. At the same time, 41 percent say "Surviving Christmas," "Mixed Nuts" and "Scrooged" ring true this year, compared with 45 percent in 2009.

Families also indicate they are more likely to identify with the movie title "Surviving Christmas" (28 percent), while those without children think "It's a Wonderful Life" (36 percent). At the same time, survey respondents with children indicate they are more likely to make smart money decisions than those without children; however, they also appear to be more cash-strapped, which could hinder their intentions to spend wisely.

Montanaro notes that families should keep the bigger picture in mind when setting holiday budgets. "Opening a savings account or contributing to a college savings plan aren't as exciting as giving the toy of the moment, but these are gifts that can keep giving over time, while helping to keep debt at bay."

The survey findings also show women are more likely than men to "Jingle All the Way" this holiday shopping season (17 percent vs. 13 percent) and to manage their holiday spending wisely. For instance, women are more likely to develop a holiday budget (67 percent vs. 54 percent) and to stick to it (52 percent vs. 41 percent). Women are also more likely to use a credit card in order to gain rewards on their purchases (30 percent vs. 22 percent).

"Using a credit card for holiday purchases in order to get rewards can be a smart move as long as you pay off the balance at the end of the month to avoid paying interest," said Montanaro. "Shopping over the holidays may yield some great bargains to make your dollar go further. The key is not spending more dollars than you have to get those deals."

USAA, a fully integrated financial services provider that focuses on serving the military and their families, commissioned the survey to determine how consumers plan to approach their holiday spending and budgeting activities this year compared to its 2009 survey on the topic.

USAA Survey Findings

  • The top two reasons for using cash are to avoid accruing more debt (42%) and to stay within a holiday budget (31%).
  • Half (50%) of those planning to use cash have been saving diligently or a little here and there throughout the year - down from 56 percent in 2009.
  • More consumers indicate they did not need to save money for holiday purchases this year compared to last year (27% vs. 18%).
  • Parents are much more likely as those without children to say they will use credit cards this holiday season because they don't have enough cash to cover their purchases (25% vs. 10%).
  • Women are more likely than men to use cash for holiday purchases as a means to stay within their budget (36% vs. 25%).

 

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