Poll suggests more than half of us to bust Christmas budgets

Spending by Canadians on the rise, even as more of us decry the “craziness of holiday shopping”

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If the demands of Christmas seem overwhelming, it may be comforting to take refuge in a common consensus. More than two-thirds of Canadians say that “holiday spending is out of control,” according to an online survey conducted by CIBC, while shopping was seen as amongst the biggest irritants of the season.

Ontarians on average set themselves a shopping budget of $692 this year, up $22 from 2016; that’s in addition to another $302 set aside for Christmas season entertainment. It’s a similar shopping budget set by the average Canadian of $643, though far above Quebecers, who gave themselves $479 for gift purchases, and far below Atlantic Canadians’ $827. However, more than half of all Canadians who responded to the survey said they were likely surpass their allotted spending limits.

Younger Canadians were especially profligate, with 62 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds saying they were likely to go over budget. That was compared with only 39 per cent of 55 years and older, who were able to keep a comparatively tighter leash on spending.

Indeed, the commercialism appears to be getting under some people’s skin, with 23 per cent of respondents saying their biggest irritant of the season was “the craziness of holiday shopping.” A further 16 per cent said their biggest annoyance was “going over budget or unplanned spending,” while 10 per cent took umbrage with “feeling pressure to give gifts.”

“While the holidays are meant to be a time to reconnect with loved ones, Canadians are telling us that they’re secretly frustrated with the shopping, stress and overspending that can end up eclipsing the joy of the season,” said David Nicholson, vice-president of CIBC Imperial Service, in a release of the poll results.

Still, despite the stresses of the season, a full 42 per cent of Canadians described themselves as “modern day Santas,” saying they “absolutely love” giving gifts at Christmas. The younger 18- to -34-year-olds turned out to be the most enthusiastic, with 47 per cent taking on the modern day Santa mantle.

Another 29 per cent of Canadians described themselves as “traditionalists,” saying they somewhat enjoyed the gift-giving. On the other hand, a whole nine per cent of respondents self-identified as “Scrooges” when it came to exchanging presents, while eight per cent said they simply chose not to participate in the exercise.

As any retailer will know, the arrival of Christmas brings with it massive spikes in demand. The toy, game and hobby supply industry, for instance, saw sales more than tripling last Christmas in Canada, from a $140-million year on average to $420-million, according to Statistics Canada. Television, audio and visual equipment sales jumped 120 per cent to reach $460-million, as people rushed in to pick up those flat screen TVs and surround sound systems they had been eying all year. Jewellery and watch sales, likewise, doubled  to $120-million, while cameras and photographic supplies saw a 177 per cent jump to reach $74-million.

Of course, gifts are only one aspect of the Christmas consumption straining people’s wallets. A total of $77.6 million worth of Christmas trees were sold in Canada in 2016 from some 1,800 farms, according to Statistics Canada.

Moreover, with our immense lumber stocks, Canada was perhaps unsurprisingly a net-exporter of fresh-cut Christmas trees to the world last year, sending $43.1 million worth of the product, or almost two million trees, worldwide. Customers as far away as the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, France and Australia were reportedly pining for a Canadian conifer or evergreen in their homes. Canada apparently has such an abundance of Christmas cheer, it’s exporting it around the globe.

But even just looking out the window, you may notice bright shining streets in the dead of night, despite the winter solstice. A survey by Statistics Canada suggest the preponderance of Christmas lights has grown in the last decade amongst Canadians. In 2015, 41 per cent of households said they used holiday LEDs during the season, up from 29 per cent in 2007.

People are at least as keen as ever to celebrate the season in abundance, if not more so. But with Christmas seeming to be an ordeal and burden on so many people, CIBC’S Nicholson suggests it may be worth Canadians revaluating their seasonal traditions.

“It’s time to reset expectations, so the holidays can be enjoyed to their fullest,” he said. “No tradition is set in stone. Take some time with friends and family to discuss new traditions that might better reflect your shared values and help to reduce the costs and stress of the holidays.”