37% of consumers will spend months paying off holiday season debts, Achieve survey finds
While most Americans prioritize using money on hand to pay for holiday expenses and being budget conscious, half will still take on debt this season
December 13, 2023
SAN MATEO, Calif., December 13, 2023 — Half of American consumers expect to take on debt to pay for the holidays, including 37% who believe it will take them two or more months to pay off their bills, according to the results of the 2023 Season of Spending survey by Achieve, the leader in digital personal finance.
Achieve’s survey found consumers were split nearly evenly at 50% on whether they will take on holiday spending debt this year, while 14% said it will only take them a month to pay off their bills.
The survey was conducted by the Achieve Center for Consumer Insights, a think tank that publishes research and commentary from Achieve’s team of digital personal finance experts. These latest results follow recently published findings that “tip fatigue” has taken hold of the holiday season, with 62% of consumers saying they’re not giving year-end tips to service workers or donating to charities this year.
Achieve also examined the various approaches that consumers utilize to make ends meet during the holidays. Over half of respondents employ one of a number of savings strategies to manage holiday expenses, while far fewer depend on earning additional income during the holiday season. However, the most popular approach to saving for the holidays — building a stockpile of cash at home — is not without its drawbacks.
"Establishing a holiday spending budget and saving cash at home are great, tangible strategies to track your progress and stay motivated to stick to your goals," said Achieve Co-Founder and Co-CEO Andrew Housser. " Research has long shown that people tend to spend less when they pay with cash instead of credit cards. Paying with cash has the added benefit of helping you stay acutely aware of exactly how much you’re spending and not using money you don’t have."
"For online holiday shopping, consumers should use digital payment options that offer cash back or other rewards to maximize the value of their spend," Housser added. "But it’s important to be mindful about how much you’re spending online because it’s easy to quickly click away large sums of money without even thinking about it."
Over two-thirds (69%) of respondents said they spent about as much as they originally planned during the 2022 holiday season, while 14% said they went over budget last year. Meanwhile, 74% believe they’ll be able to stay on budget this year and only 9% of respondents think they’ll end up going over budget.
Consumers’ expectations for whether they’ll stick to their 2023 budgets strongly parallel to how well they stayed on track a year ago. For example, among respondents who think they’ll end up spending more than they’re planning to spend in 2023, 61% went over budget in 2022. Likewise, among consumers who think they’ll spend less than they’re planning to in 2023, 52% spent less than budgeted in 2022. The trend is consistent among respondents who believe they’ll stay on budget in 2023: 82% were able to stay on track last year.
Overall, 59% of consumers plan budgets similarly for 2023 as they did in 2022, while 21% are budgeting to spend more and 20% have set a smaller budget. Among respondents who increased their spending plan for 2023, 21% still believe they’ll end up going over their new, larger budgets. Conversely, among respondents with a smaller 2023 budget, 44% expect to stay under their new, lower budgets.
Consumers’ ability to keep to their holiday spending budget is influenced by a variety of factors, both positive and negative. The most important, consumers said, was their ability to find good deals for gifts (51%); not getting carried away buying gifts for too many people (33%); and their ability to earn enough income during the holiday season (26%). Conversely, consumers said some of the key impediments to staying on budget include impulse shopping for others (16%) or themselves (15%); the pressure of trying to create a memorable holiday experience for family (14%) and a sense of obligation to buy gifts (12%).
The survey also examined the payment methods consumers plan to use for holiday purchases and found that 37% of respondents will use debit cards and checks connected to their primary bank accounts as their primary payment option. Combined with the 20% of consumers relying primarily on cash, 57% of respondents are prioritizing using money on hand before resorting to taking on debt. However, the survey also found that 34% of respondents primarily rely on credit cards for holiday spending, while 4% prefer to use buy now, pay later (BNPL) financing.
Overall, 76% of consumers expect to use at least two payment methods for their holiday purchases this year. Among those respondents, 49% plan on using cash to supplement their preferred primary payment method, making it the most frequently cited additional payment method, followed by debit cards/checks (33%); credit cards (28%); and BNPL (12%). Among respondents only using one payment method for holiday purchases, 43% exclusively use credit cards, along with 25% each for respondents relying on debit card/check and cash.
Achieve’s survey also found key differences in consumers’ preferred holiday payment options based on their household income, as respondents with household incomes above $50,000 far more likely to primarily use credit cards.
The data and findings presented are based on an Achieve survey conducted in October 2023 consisting of 1,000 U.S. consumers ages 18 and older, and is representative of Census Bureau benchmarks of the U.S. population for age, gender, race and ethnicity.
About the Achieve Center for Consumer Insights
The Achieve Center for Consumer Insights is a think tank that leverages Achieve’s team of digital personal finance experts to provide a view into the state of consumer finances. In addition to sharing insights gleaned from Achieve’s proprietary data and analytics, the Achieve Center for Consumer Insights publishes in-depth research, bespoke data and thoughtful commentary in support of Achieve’s mission of helping everyday people get on the path to a better financial future.
Achieve, THE digital personal finance company, helps everyday people get on, and stay on, the path to a better financial future. Achieve pairs proprietary data and analytics with personalized support to offer personal loans, home equity loans and debt resolution, along with financial tips and education and a free mobile app, Achieve MoLO (Money Left Over). Achieve has 3,000 dedicated teammates across the country with hubs in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas. Achieve is frequently recognized as a Best Place to Work.