Holiday financial stress hitting rural populations harder in 2022

A Credit Karma Study


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Does thinking about the costs of the holidays bring you to tears?

If so, you’re not alone, according to a survey carried out by Qualtrics for Credit Karma — and the stress you’re feeling may differ depending on where you live.

In our survey, we asked folks across the U.S. living in urban, suburban and rural areas if thinking about holiday costs makes them “want to cry.” Twenty-four percent of respondents living in rural areas said yes, compared to only 14% of city dwellers.

Read on to learn more about holiday financial stress and the differences we found between rural and urban respondents.

Gift-buying challenges: Rural vs. urban

Buying gifts this year will be a challenge for a lot of people no matter where they live. More than a third of all respondents in our survey (36%) said they can’t afford gifts this holiday season.

Looking specifically at rural versus urban respondents, a higher share of those in remote areas — 44% — said they wouldn’t be able to afford gifts this year, compared to 39% of city dwellers.

Though that’s comparable, there were also some differences in the answers that rural and urban respondents gave as reasons for having trouble with gift-buying.

Among respondents who said they wouldn’t be able to buy presents, a full 70% of rural survey takers cited rising cost of living as a reason for cutting back. In contrast, just 58% of respondents in cities cited cost of living.

The following table shows more about how rural versus urban groups responded when given a choice of factors to cite as reasons for not affording gifts this holiday season.

Gift affordability factors

Factors that contribute to inability to afford giftsRural survey takers who can’t afford giftsUrban survey takers who can’t afford gifts
Rising cost of living70%58%
Living paycheck to paycheck65%44%
No money saved for holiday shopping63%36%
Salary has not kept pace with inflation38%26%

As with cost of living, a higher share of rural versus urban respondents cited salary, lack of savings, and living paycheck to paycheck as factors in not being able to afford gifts.

One area where rural and urban survey takers seemed more closely aligned: inflation. Some 58% of rural respondents reported inflation as a significant factor in their gift-buying troubles, as did 48% of urban respondents.

Gift-buying issues reflect pay, cost-of-living issues

Cost of living and salary — central to our survey respondents’ gift-buying challenges — are clearly at the root of their broader financial worries. When asked what the main causes of their financial stress were, 32% of people in rural areas said they can’t afford necessities. A smaller but significant share (19%) of city respondents said the same.

Rent, credit card debt and medical costs

Rent was one area of stress reported by more urban than rural survey respondents: 26% of urban survey takers said they had a problem with rent costs, while only 14% of rural survey takers said the same.

Aside from rent, though, respondents in rural areas often reported higher levels of stress than city respondents related to debt, other bills and medical costs.

  • 27% of rural respondents consider credit card debt a big cause of financial stress vs. 21% of urban respondents)
  • 32% of rural respondents vs. 20% urban report high levels of stress over not being able to afford other bills
  • 22% rural vs. 20% urban respondents reported high stress over and medical costs

Urban respondents were also much more likely to report that they were expecting a year-end bonus than rural respondents — 20% versus 7%.

Managing holiday costs

According to the 2019 American Community Survey carried out by the U.S. Census Bureau, poverty rates are typically higher in rural areas than in urban areas, which could offer some explanation for the leanings of our survey findings.

But the results also clearly show that plenty of people in both urban and rural environments are struggling, with the holidays an added challenge. These articles offer some guidance on how to manage holiday costs.


On behalf of Credit Karma, Qualtrics conducted a nationally representative online survey, from September 23 to September 27, among 1,037 American adults ages 18 and older to understand financial stresses around the holidays. Qualtrics’ survey was conducted online and therefore was limited to respondents with internet access. 

About the author: Gaby Lapera is a researcher and writer at Credit Karma and a personal finance expert. She also spends time working on investing and science communication. Gaby graduated with a master's degree in biological anthropolo… Read more.