Brianna Bell is a Guelph-based journalist.
I was shopping for craft supplies in early October when I noticed some faux pine garland out of the corner of my eye. I looked down the aisle, and sure enough, it had recently been stocked with realistic-looking Santas, Christmas lights and life-sized candy canes. I was barely ready to decorate my front door with fall mums and pumpkins, but somehow the store thought it was time to bring out the Christmas decor.
Most Canadians bristle at the ridiculousness of holiday shopping before we’re ready to purchase our Halloween candy – but it’s hard to deny that every year, our wallets open earlier, and our spending increases, with the wider holiday shopping window.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) recently published their annual Canadian holiday outlook, which captures retail trends based on surveys completed by more than 1,300 Canadian consumers of different generational groups. Unsurprisingly, Canadians plan to increase their holiday spending by 1.9 per cent this year, to an average of $1,593 a person. The majority of Canadians (59 per cent), plan to spend the same as last year, but with such a hefty annual budget that’s hardly showing restraint.
Perhaps most surprising to me was the fact that the youngest generations were the biggest spenders, with 42 per cent of Gen Z (ages 17 to 23) and 31 per cent of millennials (ages 24 to 37) planning to spend more this year on holiday shopping. What’s most baffling: 24 per cent of Gen Z and 22 per cent of millennial shoppers are concerned about the credit-card debt they’ll incur from holiday shopping.
As a self-employed wife and mother of three young children, I’m surprised to see how spendthrift my own generational group of millennial parents is. Last year’s Holiday Outlook revealed millennial parents were among the top holiday spenders – but there’s no mention of this particular group in 2019. The thirtysomething parents I know don’t seem to be the type that would lead the holiday spending in our country; not with our high rent or massive mortgages, piling student debt and hefty car payments.
Last year, my husband and I spent around $600 on holiday gift giving and experiences, which is fairly frugal compared to the national average. In previous years, when our budget was too stretched, we’ve managed to barely spend $200, relying on simple homemade gifts, thrifted items and handwritten cards. In 2018, I spent more than I intended – partly because of my own confidence in our personal finances, and because I got a bit carried away with shopping for my three young kids and their growing wish lists.
In the past, we’ve had no choice but to stretch our dollars carefully. My husband and I married at 21, and had our first child by 22 – we spent our first few Christmases huddled beside a tiny Charlie Brown Christmas tree, decorated with antique ornaments passed down by our parents, our gifts carefully selected at local thrift shops. One year, when money was particularly tight, I collected rocks outside and painted them for our parents and siblings. I was slightly embarrassed, but also proud of my creativity and desire to give, even when I had so little to offer.
Over the years, our daughters grew up, started going to school and learned that simple gifts aren’t as fun as the gifts their friends received. Last year, we swapped out the Charlie Brown tree for a larger tree, and simple gifts for more extravagant and shiny ones. When I reflect on my spending habits in 2018, I realize that I started shopping too early, hoping to get a “head start” so that I could relax for most of December. Naturally, the early shopping just meant I blew my budget, and of course I didn’t stop spending in December.
The years of rock painting and thrifting for gifts are long gone, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be conscious of my spending habits over the holidays. This year, in an attempt to rein in my spending and stick to a careful budget, I’ve decided to avoid holiday shopping until December.
In order to fulfill my commitment, I’ll have to be careful about where I go, and how I spend my time in November. That means no activities that lead to spending, including mall browsing, holiday craft shows, online shopping, or even Christmas baking until Dec. 1. That still leaves me 24 days – nearly an entire month, to get a bit of shopping done, and focus on what matters most: making special memories with my three daughters and my husband, and celebrating the true meaning of the holiday.
As for the others in my generational group, I hope we can all slow down on the spending this year. We can still give gifts while embracing frugality and financial sustainability, and we can still enjoy decorating and fun traditions while welcoming simplicity. Just because we’re feeling optimistic about our finances doesn’t mean we need to go overboard with our spending this year. Holding off on holiday spending might just be the trick.
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