Reader Question: What is the Average Christmas Spending for a Family?

Decorated Christmas TreeWelcome to another reader question!  I love the questions, so if you have something you want to ask either me, or The College Investor readers, please use my contact page and get in touch.

This week’s question comes from Leslie, who is curious about what people spend for Christmas gifts…

The Question

I’m on a pretty tight budget as I’m still at my first job and trying to pay off my students loans as quickly as possible.  This will be my first Christmas with my husband and new baby (it was a big year!) and I want to make it special.  However, I don’t know what is considered reasonable to spend on gifts and decorating.  Plus, I don’t know what I should expect when it comes to giving gifts for his family.  I know this isn’t super-investing related, but I’d love to know what you and your readers think the average Christmas spending for a family is?

The Answer

Leslie, thanks for the great question!  I don’t just answer investing questions, and remember my motto: Get Out of Debt, Start Saving, Build Your Investments.  Looks like you’re right between #1 and #2.

First, I thought it would be interesting to share the results from the National Retail Federation about how much people spent in 2011.  This is a great starting point, but it may not fit your exact needs:

Average Amount Spent on Gifts: $515.94

Average Amount Spent on Decor: $46.73

Average Amount Spent on Holiday Food: $96.75

I thought these amounts for gifts and food were pretty reasonable, but decor was low.  If you’re celebrating your first Christmas, chances are you’ll spend a little more on this category because you’re decorating your own place for the first time.  However, this may go down a lot in future years since you’ll typically reuse the same decorations.

However, let’s open it up to readers and see what they have to say about the average amount spent during Christmas.

How much do you typically spend on your family during Christmas?

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  1. says

    Those numbers are a lot lower than I would have guessed. My personal numbers are a lot lower since I don’t spend anything on decor and food and plan to buy only one gift this year.

  2. says

    I spend about a week’s pay on Christmas, including transportation and gifts. If you are on a tight budget, you can agree with your spouse not to give anything to each other, or a $20 limit. His family will LOVE a 2013 calendar with pictures of the baby, or any custom gift with baby pictures, that shouldn’t cost you more than $10 per gift.
    If you are a bit crafty you can make cheap decorations too and bake yourself for the Christmas meal.

      • says

        You can do it all online and there is usually a discount if you order several. I saw Apple had a way to sync your pictures with their photo online store so you can order with just a few clicks.

  3. says

    I think that the decor figure may be so low because it takes into account what we already own. The typical family simply adds to their Christmas collection, a new ornament here, new lights there, etc. We only buy a new tree every few years. My wife bought a beautiful fake tree in 2004 that we have used, but after three moves, it has finally bit the dusk and we’ll be buying a new one during the December 26th sales this year.

    • says

      Yes, decor is completely based on what you have and don’t have. The number seems reasonable if you have stuff already, but if you’re starting fresh you can expect to spend to decorate!

  4. says

    I absolutely believe those numbers. Having said that, I don’t think that anybody spending much less should be considered cheap, excessively frugal, or anything of the like. The holiday season is about so much more than presents (though my kids might not totally agree!).

    I say we should spend what we feel comfortable spending, and not feel compelled to meet any standard or expectations others may have.

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