Lower-income households may have to decide between paying for food and buying gifts this holiday season

Lower-income households may have to decide between paying for food and buying gifts this holiday season
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  • Nearly 12% of US consumers don't plan to shop this holiday season, a Deloitte survey found.
  • Most of them are lower-income households who cited the rising cost of food as a main concern.

Rising prices could mean some families won't be able to afford holiday gifts this year.

The percentage of consumers who don't plan to shop this holiday season is spiking at the same time that prices continue to rise, according to Deloitte's 2021 holiday retail survey, which polled 4,315 US consumers between September 7 and September 14, 2021.

The survey found that 11.5% of consumers don't plan to spend this year, versus 4.9% in 2020, 2.9% in 2019, and 4.2% in 2018. The majority of the shoppers who say they won't buy holiday gifts — 65% — make $50,000 or less per year, Deloitte found.

Half of the consumers who plan to sit out the holiday shopping season cited higher food prices as the primary reason they're spending less.

The picture looks different for higher-income households. Deloitte estimates that Americans will spend $1,463 on average this holiday season, up 5% from last year, with higher earners driving the majority of that spending. Still, regardless of income, consumers are bracing for an expensive shopping season: Nearly 70% of shoppers are anticipating higher prices throughout the holidays, Deloitte found.


The US economy is experiencing a period of inflation that doesn't appear to be subsiding anytime soon — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned last month that prices will stay high until halfway through 2022. That inflation is hitting grocery stores particularly hard, frustrating consumers who are fed up with paying more for common items like corn, soybeans, coffee, and meat.

At the same time, corporations are using inflation as an excuse to keep prices high, a practice that results in higher profits for corporations and fewer discounts and deals for consumers, Insider's Dominick Reuter and Andy Kiersz reported.

Lower-income households may have to decide between paying for food and buying gifts this holiday season
Loren Elliott/Reuters

The holidays may just cost more this year

The combination of inflation and ongoing shortages may mean that the holidays are going to be expensive across the board.

Traveling for the holidays is expected to cost more than usual, regardless of how you do it: Rental car prices are still high, and so are jet fuel prices, which means airline tickets could be pricier too.

Gifts will also probably cost more. New and used cars are significantly more expensive this year due to the ongoing semiconductor shortage; electronics like game consoles and TVs are suffering a similar fate; and toy companies are warning that shelves could be more bare than usual thanks to shipping snafus. If toy-makers are able to get their products shipped, they're paying premiums that may lead to higher prices for shoppers.


And rising food costs means higher prices for popular holidays meals like turkey. Plus, meat suppliers are warning small turkeys will be in short supply because the pandemic made smaller gatherings the norm.

Even decor isn't safe. Live Christmas trees could be pricier and harder to find due to a combination of climate change, soaring demand during the pandemic, and the late-stage impacts of the 2008 Recession that led to a tighter supply of trees. Growers have reported having to raise their prices as a result — in fact, the average price of a tree more than doubled since 2008, according to data from the National Christmas Tree Association.

Artificial tree prices are expected to skyrocket as well due to the ongoing supply chain snarls. Fake trees could cost up to 25% more as retailers attempt to recoup soaring shipping prices, and congested ports mean that products may be out of stock altogether. Balsam Hill, a company that sells trees, wreaths, and garlands, told The Wall Street Journal in September that it had to raise its prices by roughly 20%.