Survey: 6 in 10 Americans better off financially than a year ago this holiday season

WASHINGTON — With unemployment numbers on the decline and consumer confidence on the rise, Americans are ready to open their wallets as the holiday season approaches. In fact, a new survey finds that six in 10 Americans say they’re better off financially than they were a year ago, which should be music to the ears of retailers.

According to WalletHub’s annual Holiday Shopping Survey, that finding is up from last year when just half of the respondents felt their money situation had improved.

“Based on employment stats, wage increases and tax cuts, 60 percent feeling better makes sense,” says Ira Weiss, a professor of management, innovation and entrepreneurship at NC State University, in a statement to WalletHub. Weiss also notes that even with the recent troubles plaguing the stock market, there’s “no reason to believe this time next year will be different.”

It seems the good news will lead consumers to spend a bit more this year. Thirty-five percent of respondents expect to drop at least $500 in holiday shopping, with 20 percent willing to spend up to $1,000. Fifteen percent believes they’ll spend more than $1,000 come holiday time. Conversely, 19 percent aren’t planning on dropping more than $100.

Fifty-five million Americans will have holiday debt this year, but perhaps most encouraging is that the number of shoppers who expect to pay off that balance by the end of the year is up 70 percent from a year ago. Sixty percent plan on paying off their purchases by the due date — leaving one in five still owing money for holiday shopping into February or longer.

Still, the barrage of deals that consumers will find will likely lead them to going over their budgets, experts warn.

“While many of us plan or hope to pay off our debt on time, the reality is, many will carry debt for several months,” Todd Donavan, an associate professor of marketing at Colorado State University, tells WalletHub. “Consumers often have intentions to spend a specific amount, but when they actually get in the stores, the amount rises considerably.”

And consumers aren’t rushing to open up new credit card accounts this year. Just one in six plan to apply for some new plastic to get them through the season. The threat of continued rate hikes by the Federal Reserve may be scaring shoppers away from opening more accounts, experts say.

Interestingly, while one recent survey found the average Black Friday shopper plans to spend $520 for the annual bargain bonanza, many of the 500 participants in WalletHub’s survey seem to be over the event. A touch more than half (51 percent) of the respondents, particularly women (55 percent) and baby boomers (63 percent) agreed that Black Friday sales are overrated.

“I agree that there are certainly ‘deals’ that are nothing special,” Neel Das, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, tells WalletHub. “Almost all the time, we consumers buy things that are ‘on sale.’ In fact, the phrase has been used so much that I believe it has lost its credibility and attractiveness.”

As for what the survey found consumers would be willing to dish out extra cash for when it comes to holiday shopping: 34 percent would spend more for faster shipping, 27 percent just want friendlier customer service, and 20 percent would shell out extra dough for gift wrapping. Meanwhile, about 30 percent would pay more for fewer tweets from President Trump this season, compared to the 6 percent who want more from the commander-in-chief.

More than anything though, 47 percent agreed they’d open their wallets the most for precious peace and quiet.

The nationally representative survey was conducted by WalletHub in October 2018.