Nearly half of Americans have already started holiday shopping

Happy young woman doing some early holiday shoppingImage: Happy young woman doing some early holiday shopping

In a Nutshell

While holiday shopping is traditionally thought to begin after Thanksgiving with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, a new Credit Karma survey finds nearly half of Americans have already started shopping for the holidays.
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It’s only October but the holiday season is already upon us.

A new Credit Karma survey of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers found that 45% percent of Americans have already started holiday shopping this year, with some beginning as early as January.

Why the head start? Many respondents cited convenience, saving money and wanting to avoid stress around the holidays as a few reasons they started shopping early.

And with consulting firm Deloitte predicting a robust holiday shopping season, retailers have good reason to expect big sales through the end of the year.

In fact, our survey finds Americans intend to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars during the 2018 holiday season (even if they haven’t started already). Forty-three percent of all U.S. consumers plan to spend $500 or more on holiday gifts this year. Nearly 20% plan to spend more than $1,000. (Learn about our methodology.)

Key survey findings

Of those who have begun holiday shopping, a small portion (6%) began in January, but the real upswing began in June and continued through September, with 86% starting to shop during that time.
Nearly 40% of Americans are most likely to use credit cards to do their holiday shopping, followed by debit cards (29%) and cash (22%). Hardly any Americans plan to take advantage of layaway (3%) or financing (1%) this year.
When asked why they started shopping early this year, nearly 50% of respondents said it’s because they like to feel prepared, 38% want to avoid the lines and crowds and 21% said it’s because the holidays stress them out.
Of the U.S. consumers who plan to holiday shop this season (about 93% of respondents), 43% plan to spend more than $500 on gifts and nearly 20% plan to spend more than $1,000.
Women were slightly more likely than men to say they have already started holiday shopping (47% vs. 43% respectively).
Respondents with higher credit scores (701 or higher) were more likely to say they have not started their holiday shopping yet compared to those with lower scores (60% vs. 46% respectively).

Christmas in June: The bulk of early holiday shopping began mid-year

According to our survey, most of the pre-holiday shopping so far this year happened between June and September. But at least some U.S. consumers began their 2018 holiday shopping as early as January.

Source: Credit Karma

The desire to avoid holiday stress is driving some to shop early

Our survey found a few reasons nearly half of Americans have started holiday shopping more than 6 months — or in some cases almost a year — before December or late November.

Some of the top responses related to avoiding typical holiday stressors like waiting in lines, being around large crowds, or spending a lot of money.

And the top response — “because I like to feel prepared” — could really mean that many Americans shop early to avoid the stress of feeling unprepared.

Why did you start holiday shopping early this year? Percent of respondents
I like to feel prepared 49%
It will save me money 39%
It’s more convenient 39%
To avoid the lines and crowds 38%
The holidays stress me out 21%
I’m worried the items I want will sell out 21%
I saw an ad that prompted me to buy a gift for the holidays 17%
I normally do holiday shopping before the holiday season 15%
I don’t care about getting a deal from holiday sales 6%
Other 6%

Credit cards will be the preferred method of payment during the holidays

Many U.S. consumers plan to spend hundreds of dollars, or in some cases thousands, on gifts this holiday season. Our survey found that 93% of Americans plan to holiday shop this year. And of those, about 43% plan to spend more than $500 on gifts, with nearly 20% planning to spend more than $1,000.

How much do you plan to spend in total on holiday gifts this year? Percent of respondents
$50 or less 4%
$51 – $100 8%
$101 – $300 22%
$301 – $500 23%
$501 – $1,000 25%
$1,001 – $3,000 14%
$3,001 – $5,000 2%
More than $5,000 2%

And when it comes to purchasing those gifts, U.S. consumers are most likely to charge it to credit cards.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they would use a credit card to pay for holiday presents, compared to 29% who said they would use debit cards and 22% who said they would use cash.

On the other end of the spectrum, hardly any Americans plan to take advantage of layaway (3%) or financing (1%) this year — a big shift from last year when a Deloitte study found 13% of Americans planned to use layaway services during the holiday season.

Tips for staying within your budget this holiday season

Whether you’ve already started shopping for gifts this year or plan to wait until the last minute, holiday shopping can be stressful — especially if you end up spending more than you intend.

It doesn’t have to be, though. Follow our tips to stay within your budget this year and save yourself a whole lot of anxiety and buyer’s remorse.

Start early

Yes, we’re recommending you join the ranks of the many Americans who have already begun holiday shopping this year. Starting early can help give you the mental space you need to think carefully about what to buy. If you start now, you can be strategic — actually drawing up a budget and planning out what kind of gifts will fit within it. Waiting until the last minute can lead to rushed decisions and stress-spending.

Consider using cash

One way you can keep yourself from spending too much over the holidays is to replace the credit card (or cards) in your wallet with cash. That way, each time you go to pay for something, you’ll have to pull out real, paper money and watch it go into the register. It may just make you think twice before spending. But if you’re one of the 39% of Americans who does plan to use a credit card over the holidays, just make sure you don’t spend more than you have, and remember to pay back on time and in full. This could even provide a healthy little boost to your scores.

Step away for a moment

Before you rush to the register with your gifts, try leaving the store and walking around outside for a bit. Studies show retailers understand the various factors that make people want to spend money. Whether it’s through sight, smell or sound, retailers know what senses to manipulate to make you buy. So stepping away from a store and out of its environment for a few minutes can help you clear your mind and better evaluate how you’re about to spend your money.


On behalf of Credit Karma, Qualtrics conducted an online survey in September 2018 of more than 1,000 Americans 18 or older to find out whether they’ve begun holiday shopping and why. All percentages in this article are rounded to the nearest whole percent.

About the author: Maizie Simpson leads the Content Strategy team and Data Journalism program at Credit Karma. Her team is dedicated to finding and publishing the human story behind financial stats and trends. To see a collection of the… Read more.