Here’s why half of Americans are dreading the holidays


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This year’s upcoming holiday shopping season is filling nearly half of consumers with dread, according to a LendingTree survey of more than 2,000 Americans.

The main reasons why involve the anticipated costs of presents and festivities, as well as the pressure to purchase gifts. In fact, stress levels are so high that about a quarter of Americans say they’re even losing sleep worrying about how they’ll afford holiday spending this year.

See what else the survey revealed about 2021 holiday shopping sentiments, along with tips from our expert on how to avoid holiday debt this year.

Nearly half are dreading the holidays

With this upcoming holiday season, 48% of Americans are feeling grinchy when it comes to holiday spending.

And it’s not just your run-of-the-mill dread: Nearly 1 in 4 consumers are losing sleep worrying about how to pay for the winter holiday season. This insomnia is worse among parents with kids under 18 (36%) and Gen Z (35%) and more pronounced in women versus men (27% versus 20%).

“It’s definitely normal to dread the holidays because of how costly they are. However, there’s no question that for some Americans, this holiday season will be even harder,” says Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree.

Not only have millions had their financial lives flipped upside down by the pandemic, he explains, but this year has introduced a growth in inflation. 

“It’s a really bad time to have everything cost more,” he notes.

Not only that, but 13% of survey respondents say they’re still paying off bills from last year’s holiday spending. If you’re still struggling to pay down last year’s holiday debt, see if you can find a way to lower your interest rate, advises Schulz. 

“Zero-percent balance transfer cards are widely available for folks with good credit scores and come with offers of a year or longer without any interest on the transferred balance. That can be a godsend,” he said.

Or just call your card issuer and ask for a lower rate: “It sounds far-fetched, but more than 80% of folks who asked for a lower interest rate last year got one, according to a LendingTree survey,” says Schulz.

Even for those who don’t have lingering bills from 2020, more people expect to rely on their plastic this year — debit cards and credit cards were the most popular methods of payment among survey respondents (47% and 39%, respectively).

More than 4 in 10 think they may incur holiday debt

The survey shows that 41% of Americans think it’s at least somewhat likely they’ll go into debt shopping for the holidays — this is up 10 percentage points from last year’s survey.

“I’m not surprised,” says Schulz. “Millions of Americans have a razor-thin financial margin for error; inflation makes it even thinner.”

So just how much do Americans plan to spend on holiday gifts? This year’s average is $792, with some groups sharing higher spending expectations. For example, millennials anticipate spending $829 and boomers — possibly to spoil their grandkids — say they’ll spend $803. There’s also a big disparity between genders; men are prepared to shell out $895, compared to women, who say they will spend $701.

As for shoppers’ preferred payment method, debit cards took the lead with 47% while just 39% will use a credit card. According to Schulz, this could mean potentially missing out on credit card rewards and other perks, though everyone would need to assess their personal situation.

“A credit card is usually the best choice for shopping, as rewards can help extend your budget. Purchase protection and other perks that come with the card can also prevent headaches if things go wrong,” he says. 

However, anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable using a credit card shouldn’t use one, he added: “Credit cards are like knives. They’re incredibly useful tools, but if you don’t use them properly, you can really hurt yourself.”

Consumers feel pressured to buy presents

Despite money worries, 40% of consumers say they feel pressured to buy gifts for someone. These include:

  • Family members: 23%
  • Romantic partner: 9%
  • Friends: 9%
  • Partner’s family: 9%

In addition, some respondents listed their coworkers, bosses and childrens’ teachers as other obligatory gift recipients on their list.

Gen Zers and millennials were the age groups most likely to feel gift-giving pressure (56% and 50%, respectively). Millennials are most likely to buy for their romantic partners as compared to other groups, while Gen Zers splurge on their friends more than older generations. Baby boomers are most likely to share some holiday cheer with their mail carriers, hairdressers and other service providers, while Gen X is the group most likely to shop for kids.

Parents with young kids feel the most holiday pressure

It’s not necessarily the “most wonderful time of the year” for parents with kids younger than 18 in the household.

For starters, they are the group with the highest percentage still paying off debt from 2020 (21% versus 13% of total respondents), and more than half (51%) expect to tack on more debt this year. More than a third of parents say they are losing sleep over affording the holidays (36%), while 59% expressed a sense of dread, much higher than any other cohort in the survey.

“The pressure on parents during the holidays is real,” says Schulz, who is a parent himself. Besides getting bombarded with ads and social media posts about the hottest, must-have gifts and other parents bragging about what they got their kids, there’s also the internal pressure.

“No parent wants to disappoint their kid, and many of us have thought of going overboard for the holiday to make up for the crummy past two years,” he says. 

That all adds up to feeling compelled to spend more, even for those without the financial means.

Most haven’t started shopping yet

Perhaps part of the pressure that people are feeling is that nearly 70% of Americans haven’t started their holiday shopping yet. This is a massive drop from last year, when only 48% hadn’t started shopping around this time. (Note: Last year’s survey was conducted one week later than this year’s).

The other big shift is that consumers expect to do more in-store shopping this year. During the height of the pandemic in 2020, 54% of Americans planned to buy most of their gifts online. This year, that dropped to 42%.

5 ways to avoid holiday debt

Want to enter the holiday season with less dread and more joy? These shopping strategies can help relieve some of the financial pressure:

  1. Maximize credit card rewards and points. If you’re not using cashback credit card rewards or points to extend your holiday budget, you’re doing yourself a disservice, says Schulz. For instance, you can shop with your cards, then redeem the points as statement credits against your purchases.
  2. Consider a new card with a 0% introductory APR offer. If you have good credit, you could qualify for a card that lets you pay for new purchases with no interest for a year or more, says Schulz. Even better, if the card also has a good sign-up bonus, your holiday expenses can help you meet the spending requirements so you can earn a chunk of cash back or rewards.
  3. Use plans that spread out your payment. Installment payment options are everywhere these days. “Whether they’re the traditional special financing deals that promise 0% interest if paid off in three to six months or so-called buy now, pay later loans that are interest-free if paid off in about six weeks, lots of different options are out there,” says Schulz. But proceed with caution: Make sure you understand the rates and fees associated with those offers and understand what can happen if you don’t pay the balance before the promotional period ends.
  4. Get creative. Handmade items, photo gifts or other low-cost sentimental ideas can be far more memorable than some generic store-bought thing, says Schulz. As for gatherings, do it pot-luck style, and try fun games like “Stealing Santa” or “Yankee Swap” that involve buying one gift instead of having a giant list to check off.
  5. Communicate. “It’s not exactly a secret that things have been incredibly difficult for many of us for the past two years, so don’t be afraid to open up and tell folks that you had to dial things back a little this year,” says Schulz. Just be open and upfront and chances are people will understand, even your kids.


LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 2,036 U.S. consumers from Sept. 23 to Sept. 30, 2021. The survey was administered using a nonprobability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. All responses were reviewed by researchers for quality control.

We defined generations as the following ages in 2021:

  • Generation Z: 18 to 24
  • Millennial: 25 to 40
  • Generation X: 41 to 55
  • Baby boomer: 56 to 75

While the survey also included consumers from the silent generation (those 76 and older), the sample size was too small to include findings related to that group in the generational breakdowns.


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Magical destinations perfect for Christmas travel

Magical destinations perfect for Christmas travel

Some destinations put on some beautiful Christmas finery: wreaths, lights and maybe some mistletoe. But others? They go all-out to create Christmas-time magic with extravagant decorations and thoughtful traditions in addition to showcasing their natural beauty.

If you want to be whisked away to a winter wonderland, these 12 destinations will have you feeling as though you’ve stepped into a real-life snow globe this holiday season.

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Come for Christmas … but stick around for New Year’s! Christmas-time in Iceland is especially cozy, as families get together for a big meal and exchange books as gifts. On New Year’s, it’s common for families to set off fireworks. Both holidays are great for visitors, though. 

If you’re vacationing in Iceland, check into the new Canopy by Hilton, which is in the heart of downtown.  After a chilly night out watching the Northern Lights, you can borrow a book from the hotel’s towering bookcase and sidle up to the fireplace. Or the hotel will even loan you a record player and some records to take to your room to really get this whole hygge thing right. (Bing Crosby + snow + hot cocoa is a Christmas trifecta). The town goes all out for Christmas, affixing actual Christmas trees on downtown buildings, and there’s even a bright red mailbox stationed downtown that’s reserved for letters to the Icelandic Santa.

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Dreaming of a white Christmas? Slip away to Frisco, a mountain town that’s the perfect basecamp for all of your skiing or snowboarding adventures. They’ve even got groomed snow tubing hills that you can zoom down at the Frisco Adventure Park.

If you can sync up your vacation time with Wassail Days, you’ll be in for a special treat. The December festival includes a holiday lighting with 600 luminaries, Santa visits, caroling, free sleigh rides and, of course, lots of wassail. More than 70 businesses brew the hot spiced cider for visitors to try. It’s born out of an European custom and is meant to be a sign of hospitality during the cold winter.

“The Wassail Days festival is about exchanging good cheer in the tradition that was started in southern England and at holiday markets around Europe,” Vanessa Agee, Frisco’s marketing and communications director, tells us.

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The Finnish capital calls itself the “Christmas city” and has pinpointed Aleksanterinkatu as the official “Christmas street.” The downtown street lights up for the holidays, and the shop windows are decorated to outbid one another for the attention of shoppers. (The unveiling of the Stockmann department store’s window is a tradition children look forward to in Finland). 

You can toast to tradition with a mug of Glögi, a Christmas-time drink that’s made with spiced wine, almonds, raisins and that can be spiked with vodka. Plus, your kids can make a trip to meet Santa Claus at his year-round residence in Finland. If you can’t make the trip this year, though, you can tune into the live camera.

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In warmer months, The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds Lake Oconee feels like summer camp, complete with yard games spread about the green lawns, jet skis to rent and an infinity pool that stretches out near the lake. But this lakeside resort takes winter just as seriously. You can glide around a 6,000-sq.ft. ice skating rink and your kids can ride along a train while singing Christmas carols. 

The pièce de résistance, though? The hotel’s pastry chef David Campbell and his team create an enormous, life-sized gingerbread house for the hotel’s main lobby. There’s also a letter-writing station where your kids can pen their wish lists, and the hotel puts on fun events like “reindeer games” and storytime with Mrs. Clause. Also, the hotel offers “elf tuck-ins” for you children that includes milk and cookies and a Santa-autographed copy of either “T’was the Night Before Christmas” or “How to Catch and Elf.”

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This southwestern city’s rooftops are bedecked in farolito candles, which are homemade candle lanterns that set a warm and unique tone throughout the holiday season. But Christmas Eve is especially wonderful in Santa Fe. Visitors can take part in the Canyon Road Farolito Walk. You can weave your way through the century-old adobes, checking out artwork, sipping hot chocolate or cider and singing carols. 

The midnight mass on Christmas Eve at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is also special, incorporating an old Spanish tale about a rooster who greeted Christ with his joyful crow. The cathedral is decorated to reflect its Native American and Spanish heritage. Round out your holiday escape with a trip to Ski Santa Fe (Yes, Santa Fe gets snow! Lots of it!). After you kick your ski boots off for the day, you can sink into an outdoor jacuzzi at the nearby 10,000 Waves spa.

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Can’t make it all the way to the North Pole? You’ll feel as though you’ve teleported there when you take a trip to the Norfolk Botanical Garden. The garden sets up the “Dominion Energy Garden of Lights,” which, with more than one million lights twinkling, has nabbed awards for being among the best lights displays in the country and emulates the North Pole. Guests can drive through, take a walking tour, or even hop on the Norfolk Botanical Garden Express for a tram ride.

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Once you arrive, your next task is deciding which Christmas market to hit up first. Let the aroma of chestnuts roasting on an open fire be your GPS. More than 20 Christmas-time markets sell handmade gifts and treats throughout Vienna. One of the most famous ones is the Viennese Christmas Market in front of City Hall, which is sparking in white lights. Inside City Hall, an area is dedicated to children and they can learn how to make Christmas cookies and candles. International choirs sing carols on the weekends.

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The Christkindlesmarkt looks as though a page has been torn out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Try local treats, like German gingerbread known as lebkuchen, which comes with toppings such as chocolate or strawberry. For Instagram gold, climb the stairs of Church our Lady and you’ll get a spectacular snapshot of the red-and-white colored booths and the lights of the market. Next to Christmas Market, you’ll find international gifts — everything from Scottish kilts to French marmalades — at the Market of the Sister Cities.

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This city just outside of Fairbanks embraces its Christmas connections with streets like Santa Claus Lane, Kris Kringle Drive and Mistletoe Lane. Come December, the town gets in the Christmas spirit, drawing ice sculptors from around the world, and a fair share of national television broadcasts. The Santa Claus House is a sprawling toy store with ornaments and a giant outdoor statute of Santa. Thousands of letters of Santa get routed through this city and volunteers (AKA Santa’s Helpers) make sure the envelopes get a North Pole stamp.

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The Opryland Resort & Convention Center pulls out all the stops for its “Country Christmas” celebration, with more than three million twinkling lights throughout the hotel and a full slate of holiday events. Among them? “ICE feature A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which tells the classic Christmas story through interactive ice sculptures and “Cirque Dreams Holidaze,” an acrobatic extravaganza featuring 20 acts and 30 gravity-defying performers.

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Walt Disney World is truly a magical place during the Christmas season. (Here’s all the reasons we love the theme park during Christmas-time). From extravagant Christmas trees to Cinderella’s castle that is twinkling in icicle lights, it’s safe to say this vacation spot is like a fairytale.  

Disney also does Christmas-time parades, candlelight processional dinners, fireworks at the Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! and over-the-top desserts, as well as sharing international Christmas traditions at Epcot.

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At this charming Christmas-centric inn, you can book the “Sleigh Bells” room or even the “Mr. and Mrs. Claus”  room. It’s open year-round, so you can celebrate the holidays again with a Christmas in July escape. Sip on a hot toddy in the Mistletoe Pub or take a mountain train ride with Santa and his elves.


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