54% of Americans feel more financially stressed by the 2020 holidays than last year, survey finds

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In a Nutshell

A little over half of Americans are feeling more financially stressed by the upcoming holiday season than they did in 2019, a new survey from Credit Karma finds. Respondents indicated that they were especially concerned about affording presents, and many are planning to change their gift-giving traditions this year.
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2020 has been a tough year for a lot of people — and a new Credit Karma survey about people’s feelings on the upcoming holidays reflects that anxiety.

More than half (54%) of Americans from our survey feel more financially stressed about the holidays than they did last year — and folks are adjusting their traditions as a result.

Gifts are a big part of the holidays for a lot of people, and the survey shows that they’re a big financial stressor this year. A full 59% of respondents are planning to change their gift-giving traditions this year, potentially in an effort to cut down on costs. (Learn about our methodology.)

Based on the survey, Credit Karma put together a list of tips for getting through the holiday financial crunch. 

Key survey findings 

Over half (54%) of those surveyed feel more financially stressed about the holidays than they did last year.
One-third (34%) of respondents feel negatively towards the holidays this year, with a further 15% feeling neutral. Of those with negative feelings, roughly half (52%) said they’re feeling pessimistic because they’re concerned about their financial situation, while 47% said their negative feelings are a result of needing to adjust celebrations or traditions because of COVID-19.
More than a third (34%) of Americans surveyed feel like they’re financially unprepared for the holidays.
A lot of Americans are concerned about gift-giving this year, and they may adjust their holiday traditions around gifts as a result. Of the 34% of Americans feeling financially unprepared for the holidays, 50% are worried about affording gifts. And 59% of all respondents plan to alter their gift-giving practices this year.
Out of all the age groups, Gen Z was the most charitably minded. Of Gen Z respondents, 13% plan to ask other to donate or volunteer instead of buying them gifts, and 14% planned on donating or volunteering themselves in lieu of gift-giving.

Why are Americans feeling more financially stressed by the 2020 holiday season?

More than half (54%) of those we surveyed are more worried about their finances for the 2020 holiday season than they were in 2019. And a third of respondents (34%) reported having negative feelings towards the holidays this year.

Of those with negative feelings this year …

  • 52% report concern over their finances
  • 47% are worried about COVID-19 changing their holiday celebrations.
  • 35% think they won’t be able to afford gifts for loved ones.

Despite this, it seems the holidays still seem to be a source of good spirits for many. A full 50% of survey respondents reported feeling hopeful, excited, grateful or happy about the holidays.

How will people change their gift-giving traditions in response to increased financial stress?

Gift-giving is a major source of anxiety among the 34% of respondents who feel financially unprepared for the holidays, our survey found. In fact, half of respondents (50%) who don’t feel financially prepared for the holidays are worried about being able to afford presents.

And though just 30% of respondents from our survey plan on going into debt over the holidays, many of them expect to accrue debt buying gifts for their kids, family members and friends.

Given that, almost 60% of respondents from our survey said they’re changing up their plans for presents this year. Many are focused on reducing gifting costs by cutting down on the number of gifts they’re buying. Here’s what we found.

  • 40% of respondents say they’re limiting the number of gifts they’re purchasing for family and friends.
  • 36% say they’re placing price limits on gifts this year.
  • 34% are striking everyone but family off their lists.
  • 18% are refusing to participate in workplace gift exchanges.
  • 16% won’t buy gifts for anyone at all this year.

Despite many respondents choosing to reduce their giving, only 28% plan to tell others not to get them presents. And 24% of those surveyed actually plan to spend more on holiday-related purchases than they did last year — of those, 42% felt the need to treat those they love.

All these stats paint a picture: A lot of people associate the holidays with giving gifts, but that can also be the source of a lot of stress. If you’re looking to lower your stress levels over the holidays, something as simple as saying “no” to gifts could go a long way in reducing your financial anxieties.

Could fewer gifts lead to more charitable giving this holiday season?

Gift-giving isn’t the only way people choose to celebrate the holidays. Some people instead focus on charitable giving or volunteering their time.

According to our survey, 10% of respondents say they’ll donate or volunteer instead of purchasing gifts. And at least 10% said they’d ask others to give to charity or offer up their time instead of getting them presents.

Breaking out the data along generational lines yields some interesting results. Gen Z (14%) and millennial (13%) respondents are the most likely to volunteer instead of buying gifts, while Gen X and older generations are the least likely (9%). This could be because younger generations may not have children they feel the need to buy gifts for, or it could be differing attitudes across generations towards gift-giving.

Tips for reducing holiday financial stress

Start planning your budget now

Before you do anything, make a budget so you know where you stand. If you can, avoid going into debt. If you can’t, try to finance it with a low-cost method. Instead of a high-interest credit card, consider a loan from family or potentially a personal loan.

Set expectations

Talk to your friends and family early to set expectations around spending, especially for gift giving. Don’t be shy — a lot of people are feeling the same way, but they may not know how to start the conversation. Here are some suggestions for kicking off that talk.

  • Discuss what’s most important for you about the holiday season.
  • Share a list of low-cost or free activities that can help get you in the spirit of the season.
  • Suggest a gift exchange with price limits. A Secret Santa or White Elephant means you only need to buy one gift for the whole group instead of presents for each individual person.
  • Consider limiting the number of people you give gifts to and setting an agreed-upon spending limit. 

Give your time instead of gifts

In the spirit of holiday giving, you might think about volunteering your time for charity instead of giving gifts. A trip to help out at the local shelter or food bank is a great way to bond with friends and family while giving back to your community. Since the ultimate purpose of a gift is to foster stronger bonds, volunteering, or even just spending more time with loved ones, could be just the ticket to replace material goods.


On behalf of Credit Karma, Qualtrics conducted a nationally representative online survey in October 2020 among 1,034 American adults to understand how they’re feeling about their finances and the upcoming holiday season.

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.