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

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Winter holiday sales have increased every year since the Great Recession, from $501.5 billion in 2008 to $889.3 billion in 2021, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). Last year crushed all records, with year-over-year spending increasing by 13.5%. This year, the effects of inflation have forced families to dial back — but not by much. The NRF is still predicting growth of 6%-8% for projected sales of between $942.6 billion and $960.4 billion in 2022.

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 how much could they save if they embraced their inner Scrooge this time around? Well, a lot, as it turns out.

The Average Person Will Spend More Than $800 — Mostly on Gifts

The NRF predicts that in 2022, the average consumer will spend a total of $832.84 on the winter holidays. In a break from years past, the NRF didn’t itemize how much of that will go to gifts and how much will go to non-gift purchases like decorations, food and other holiday purchases for themselves or family members.

Last year, however, consumers spent 65% of their total holiday budget on gifts for family, friends and co-workers, which is in line with historical averages. This year, 65% of the total average budget would be about $541 spent on gifts, leaving less than $300 for parties, food, clothing and all the rest.

Giving is the true spirit of the season — but the true spirit of the season isn’t cheap. What if this year you took the $541 you would have spent on gifts and put it instead toward something more immediate, more important, or just to something you wanted more?

Make Your Money Work for You

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 $541 would more than double to $1,087 in 10 years — and that’s if you just 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 — you would have more than five times what you started with 10 years from now — $2,818, to be exact. If you were able to kick in $100 per month, your $541 in gift money would grow to $18,396. That’s enough for 34 Christmases worth of gifts in just 10 years.

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 loyal friend that truly deserves your $541. That’s enough to buy you companionship on four legs — as long as you’re willing to settle for a pooch on the low end of the scale. 

According to, dog ownership costs an average of $395-2,455 the first year, then $326-1,967 every year after that. That includes things like the upfront adoption fee, plus food, treats, accessories, heartworm and flea treatments and vet bills.

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 2023. 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.

Make Your Money Work for You

Strong Home Gym spent 40 hours researching membership prices of nearly two dozen fitness chains across the United States. The results show that the average gym membership costs about $50.03 a month, or $600.41 a year. If you deduct your gift money from that tally, you’d spend less than $60 to pay for a year’s worth of physical fitness.

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 $541 is a small price to pay to achieve that state of mind. 

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