Thanksgiving will soon come and go; then, the holiday shopping season will be upon us. Many shoppers will feverishly try to find the perfect meaningful gifts for everyone on their list. From the shopping frenzies of Black Friday and Cyber Monday to the last minute sales just before Christmas, the American commercialization of Christmas plays a big part in how much the average American pays for all of his or her holiday expenses. Between gifts, holiday parties, and decorations, Christmas in America seems to be getting more and more extravagant. Below is a look at the average cost of an American Christmas and a glance at why the cost of the holidays is steadily rising.

Cost of Christmas Gifts in 2019

According to a study performed by the National Retail Federation, Americans were projected to spend more money on gifts in 2018 than they did at any other time. According to a Gallup study, American adults expected to spend approximately $885 on gifts per person last year (2019 projections and updated 2018 numbers were not available at time of publication). Below are some of the findings:

  • 33% expected to spend at least $1000 on gifts.
  • 22% expected to spend between $500 and $999.
  • 29% expected gift spending to be between $100 and $499.
  • 3% planed to spend less than $100.

However, 8% said that they would spend nothing for gifts, and 5% were unsure. These estimates were not indicative of actual spending, which actually tend to be higher than forecasts. Holiday sales were expected to increase 4.3 and 4.8 percent over 2017 – $717.45 billion to $720.89 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. It should come as no surprise that the average cost of gifts is so high. With advertisements for big sales everywhere, there is a greater chance for impulse buys and overspending.

Dramatic Upswing in Spending Since the 2008 Recession

In 2001, the average American planned to spend $1,052 – the highest ever. Following the financial crash in 2008, planned holiday shopping dropped to $417 in 2009 – less than half of what people planed to spend in 2018. An increasing number of people – now 59% – planned on doing at least some of their holiday shopping online, and 61% planned to wait for sales to save money. The increase in spending during the holiday season year after year is largely attributed to job creation and improved wages – consumers feel more confident in their ability to spend.

Areas with the Highest and Lowest Holiday Sales

In 2017, holiday sales were highest in electronic shopping and mail-order stores and food and beverage stores, totaling $122.1 billion and $128.1 billion, respectively. The areas where sales were the lowest included hobby, toy, and game stores, with only $5.6 billion in sales, and jewelry stores at $9.1 billion in sales.


Americans have been spending more on holiday gifts every year since 2008 (except for 2012); although the holiday spending is still not back on the pre-recession trend, it seems to head in that direction – possibly thanks to lower unemployment, stronger growth, and higher confidence in the economy.