Here’s How Much You’d Save If You Didn’t Buy Christmas Presents

Young woman holding stack of gift boxes over blue studio background.
Prostock-Studio / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Winter holiday sales have increased every year since the Great Recession, from $501.5 billion in 2008 to $777.3 billion in 2020, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). A very optimistic NRF expects all records to be broken in 2021 and is predicting growth of 8.5%-10.5% for projected sales of between $843.4 billion and $859 billion this year.

That’s a whole lot of money traded for a whole lot of stuff in just a few short months. 

But how much do individual people actually spend on presents — and what else could they do with that cash if they opted out of the holidays this year? 

Well, a lot, as it turns out. 

We’ve Got You Covered: GOBankingRates’ Smart Holiday Spending Guide
Prepare: Shipping, Wrapping & More Extras To Account For in Your Holiday Budget

Holiday Spending is Approaching $1,000 Per Person

The NRF predicts that in 2021, the average consumer will spend a total of $998 on the holidays. It breaks down like this: 

  • Gifts for family, friends, and co-workers: $648
  • Non-gift holiday purchases like decorations and food: $231
  • Other holiday purchases for themselves or their family members: $118
Make Your Money Work for You

As you can see, the lion’s share of holiday spending goes not to parties, food, or clothing, but to giving — and that’s the true spirit of the season. But the true spirit of the season isn’t cheap. What if this year you took the $648 you would have spent on gifts and put it instead toward something more immediate, more important, or just to something you wanted more?

Check Out: Your Complete Guide To Getting Ahead and Saving on Holiday Shopping

You Could Invest Your Gift Money

If you took your gift money and invested it in the stock market instead, you could give yourself the gift of watching your money grow over time. Presuming a 7% return, your $648 would nearly double to $1,275 in 10 years — and that’s if you dump it in an ETF and forget about it for a decade.

If you added a little bit to it periodically — say, $10 a month or $120 a year — you would more than quadruple your $648 to $2,933. If you were able to kick in $100 per month, or $1,200 per year, your $648 in gift money would grow to $17,854. That’s enough for nearly 28 Christmases worth of gifts in just 10 years. 

Make Your Money Work for You

Shopping Tips: Wrapping Paper, Greeting Cards and More Holiday Items to Only Buy at Dollar Stores

You Could Adopt a Dog

If the humans in your social circle aren’t making you want to reach for your wallet, you might consider investing not in the stock market, but in a friend that deserves your $648 — that’s about the minimum you should plan to spend for companionship on four legs. According to Rover.com’s The Dog People blog, dog ownership costs an average of $650 to $2,115 every single year. That includes things like food, treats, accessories, and vet bills. 

In fact, you can expect to blow your entire stash of holiday gift money — and probably a whole lot more — on upfront costs alone, which range from $610 to $2,350. That’s for things like adoption fees, spay/neuter costs, and vaccinations.

See: 11 Gifts You Should Buy for Christmas Now — Before They Sell Out

You Could Get an Early Jump on Your New Year’s Resolution

In a few months, millions of Americans will be resolving to better themselves, to break some bad habits, start some good habits, and make a fresh start in 2022. Most of those resolutions will involve money or physical fitness — and if you forgo presents this year, you can use the former to pay for the latter.

Strong Home Gym spent 40 hours researching membership prices of nearly two dozen gym chains across the United States. The results show that if you’re anywhere near the average, you can join a gym and still have almost $50 left over — the average gym membership costs $50.03.

Important: The Ultimate Holiday Etiquette Gift Guide

Or, Of Course, You Could Just Buy the Presents

Before you start spending your holiday gift money in your mind, remember that to give is to receive — and that’s not just a hack holiday cliche. According to a report on the subject from South University, acts of altruism — particularly gift-giving — have a real and measurable positive impact on the person giving the gift. Even the act of browsing and winnowing down the options can improve a person’s mental state.

The University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School backed up that concept with its own research in 2011. Giving, the study found — particularly when done without the expectation of receiving something in return — makes people happier, more productive, and more fulfilled in their own lives.

Many would say that $648 is a small price to pay to achieve that state of mind. 

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About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.

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