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2 in 3 Americans Say Shopping Is the Most Stressful Part of the Holiday Season

2 in 3 Americans Say Shopping Is the Most Stressful Part of the Holiday Season

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This article was last updated Nov 14, 2018. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.

Forget hectic travel, unpredictable weather or awkward conversations with the in-laws. According to a new report from CompareCards.com, nothing stresses Americans out during the holiday season like shopping.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans agreed with the following statement: Shopping is the most stressful part of the holiday season. That doesn’t mean that Americans hate to shop, though. In a wide-ranging series of questions about their views on shopping, a large majority of Americans said they had engaged in “retail therapy” at some point and that shopping makes them feel better when they’re down. They also shared where they’re most likely to impulse buy and whether they’ve ever shopped while sad, bored or even intoxicated.

Key findings:

65% of Americans said shopping is the most stressful part of the holidays.

Thirty-four percent of Americans said they “strongly” agreed that shopping was the most stressful thing about the holidays, and another 31% said they “somewhat agree.” Add it all up, and it means that nearly two-thirds of Americans would rather do most anything other than shop during the holidays.

Men are more likely to feel that way than women, as 69% agree that shopping is the most stressful part of the holiday season whereas just 61% of women felt the same.

Parents with kids under 18 were also likely to see shopping as a huge stressor. Nearly 3 in 4 parents with young kids (73%) felt that way. That’s not surprising, given the pressure that’s often on parents to find not just more gifts for their kids but also the right gifts.

Generation X is the most likely age group to see shopping is the biggest stressor of the holidays.

No one hates holiday shopping like Generation X. Seventy-five percent of Americans ages 38 to 53 agreed that shopping was the most stressful part of the holiday season.

While that age group is firmly in its peak earning years, it’s also likely in its peak spending years. Their kids and nieces and nephews aren’t babies anymore, but they’re not old enough to have moved out of the house either, so that means a lot of gift-giving pressure during the holidays. Finding time to go shopping while juggling a demanding job, homework, soccer practices, choir rehearsals and oftentimes caring for aging parents can be a real struggle.

Just 61% of both older and younger millennials and 55% of baby boomers said shopping was the biggest holiday stressor.

79% of Americans have done “retail therapy” and 68% of Americans say that when they’re down, shopping makes them feel better.

Americans clearly have a love-hate relationship with shopping. While it drives us crazy every holiday season, most Americans say it can also help boost their spirits when they’re feeling blue.

Four in 10 Americans say they have engaged in “retail therapy” many times, while 1 in 4 said they had done it “a few times” and another 14% said they had “once or twice. Add it all up, and it’s clear that millions of Americans have taken part.

Men are far more likely than women (39% to 24%) to strongly agree that shopping makes them feel better when they’re down, though when you include those who “somewhat agree,” the numbers even out. (69% of men at least somewhat agree versus 67% of women.)

Parents with kids under 18 are particularly fond of retail therapy. Nearly 9 in 10 parents with young kids (87%) said they had engaged in retail therapy at least once.

Americans say they’re more likely to impulse shop in stores in person than online, but men and women differ.

Even in 2018, when it has never been easier to shop online, Americans say they’re more likely to make an impulse buy when they’re in a brick-and-mortar store. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said that, while 30% said they were more likely to impulse buy online.

Men and women don’t agree on this, however. Forty-two percent of women said they were more likely to impulse buy in stores versus just 24% who said online. Meanwhile, 37% of men said they were more likely to impulse buy online while 33% said in stores.

At what dollar amount would you begin to think twice before making an impulse buy? Most Americans say $50 or less.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for how much is too much to spend on an impulse buy, but most Americans said that a $50 price tag would at least give them pause. The median answer to the question “At what dollar amount would you begin to think twice before making an impulse buy” was $50. However, the most common answer was $100, given by 19% of respondents.

1 in 5 Americans shopped while intoxicated — Republicans and millennials are most likely to have done so.

Retail therapy is all about shopping when you’re blue, but in our survey, Americans said they have shopped in many different emotional states – including intoxicated.

  • 64% of respondents said they had shopped while excited
  • 61% said bored
  • 47% said joyous
  • 46% said sad
  • 37% said angry
  • 19% said intoxicated

Among those most likely to say they have shopped while intoxicated? Men (21% versus 17% of women), millennials (27% versus no more than 18% in any other age group) and Republicans (20% versus 14% of Democrats).

Meanwhile, Democrats and women are most likely to report having shopped while bored or sad.

The bottom line: Plan ahead to de-stress your holiday shopping

It’s no secret that holiday shopping is stressful. It can suck the joy out of the whole season, especially if you’re on a budget or living paycheck to paycheck and wondering just how on earth you’re going to be able to make those presents or that family gathering fit into your financial allowance.

While you’re not going to eliminate all stress from holiday shopping — short of winning the lottery or getting a big raise at work — it is possible to reduce some of the stress of the season by planning ahead.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make a budget: Giving yourself boundaries on how much you can spend can make you less likely to impulse buy your way into deeper debt.
  • Know what you’re going to buy before you go to the stores:  This can reduce budget-wrecking impulse buys as well because instead of wandering the aisles looking for ideas, you’re going into a store with a specific goal in mind and then leaving.
  • Be creative with gift-giving: A budget sometimes means that you can’t buy someone a gift, but it doesn’t mean that you have to scratch someone off your list entirely. For example, if you have more time than money, consider taking advantage of that. Oftentimes, a phone call, FaceTime or Skype chat or an in-person visit is easier and cheaper than a gift. And spoiler alert: It’s probably a lot more fun, too.
  • Use credit cards to your advantage: The last thing you want after the holidays is a mountain of debt to deal with, so it’s best to only use credit cards if you’re absolutely sure you can pay them off soon. In some cases, getting a credit card might save you money if you find a card with a good sign-on bonus or rewards that give you cash back or discounts on your purchases. Many new credit cards, including the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card currently offers a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. The Chase Freedom® comes with an additional perk — from January to March 2019, you can get 5% cash back at Gas Stations, Tolls, and Drugstores up to the quarterly maximum of $1,500 (then earn 1%). Check out our roundup of the best credit cards for holiday shopping here.
  • Cut yourself some slack: So many of us feel so much pressure to make the holidays perfect that we end up making ourselves miserable. Went a little over your budget? As long as you didn’t go too crazy, it’s OK. Can’t afford to buy as many gifts this year? Talk to your friends and tell them why. It might be awkward at first, but they’ll probably understand. They might even tell you that they’re relieved to hear it because they’re in the exact same situation.


CompareCards by LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,108 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the general population. The survey was fielded Nov. 2-6, 2018, and the margin for error for all respondents is +/- 2.9%.

The information related to the Chase Freedom® has been independently collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

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