4 in 10 Americans Say It's Harder to Afford Holiday Gifts This Year Thanks to Inflation

A new poll revealed that many Americans are feeling the effects of inflation on their holiday shopping.

The poll conducted by The Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that four in 10 Americans participating in the study say it's harder to shop this year due to inflation. Few participants said that it was easier to shop, while around half of all participants said that it was neither easier nor harder than in other years.

Many of those who said that it was harder to shop this year live in low-income households. According to the poll, 45 percent of Americans in households earning less than $50,000 annually and 40 percent earning between $50,000 and $100,000 were among those four out of 10 Americans.

"It was hard enough a year ago, five years ago, for lower-income families to find extra money to buy gifts. But it is that much harder now," said industry analyst Ted Rossman of CreditCards.com. The website conducted a survey in October showing that respondents in the lower income category were deciding against buying gifts this year due to increased prices on essential items.

The AP-NORC poll was conducted among 1,089 adults between December 2 and 7. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

Miami Shopping
A new poll shows that four in 10 Americans say it's harder to shop this year due to inflation. Above, a person walks past retail stores at the Lincoln Road mall on December 14 in Miami Beach, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Emarilis Velazquez is paying higher prices on everything from food to clothing.

Her monthly grocery bill has ballooned from $650 to almost $850 in recent months. To save money, she looks for less expensive cuts of meat and has switched to a cheaper detergent. She also clips coupons and shops for her kids' clothing at thrift stores instead of at Children's Place.

For the holidays, she's scaling back on gifts. She plans to spend $600 on her three young children instead of $1,000, and she won't be buying any gifts for relatives.

"It's stressful," said the 33-year-old stay-at-home mother from Boardman, Ohio, whose husband earns $30,000 a year making pallets for stores. "You want to give it all to your kids, even though (Christmas) is about family. They still expect things. It is hard that you can't give them what they ask for."

Retailers may be forecasting record-breaking sales for the holiday shopping season, but low-income customers are struggling as they bear the brunt of the highest inflation in 39 years.

The government's report last week that consumer prices jumped 6.8% over the past year showed that some of the largest cost spikes have been for such necessities as food, energy, housing, autos and clothing.

Overall, rising prices are changing shopping habits for many Americans. For some, they're a mere inconvenience, pushing them to delay building a deck on their house amid higher lumber prices. But for lower-income households with little or no cash cushions, they're making harder choices such as whether they can put food on the table or if they'll have to drastically scale back on holiday presents for their children—or forgo them completely.

"Inflation is devastating the pocketbooks of low-income households," said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of the America's Research Group, estimating that low-income households are cutting back their holiday buying by 20% from a year ago. "They are going to have to decide what they are going to buy and what they're going to eat."

Even some retailers that built their businesses around the allure of ultra-low prices have begun boosting them. Dollar Tree—the last true dollar store—is increasing its prices to $1.25 for a majority of its products because of higher costs of goods and freight. Velazquez says that 25 cents extra per item adds up, and the increase will force her to scale back on impulse buying there.

Despite the inflation pressures—as well as supply chain disruptions and the new COVID-19 Omicron variant—the National Retail Federation says this year's holiday shopping season appears to be on track to exceed its sales growth forecast of between 8.5% and 10.5%.

About six in 10 Americans say holiday gift prices are higher than usual, while only two in 10 say they are not. Roughly two in 10 say they did not purchase gifts recently.

Such financial stress is being felt at the food pantries such as the one at Shiloh Church in Oakland, California. In the past three months, Shiloh has seen a spike in the number of people, particularly those with jobs, coming in to pick up a weekly box of essentials or shop at its market for free produce and other food, according to Jason Bautista, who runs the food pantry.

That prompted Bautista to bring in more holiday toys for the annual giveaway set for this Saturday. It will have about 2,000 toys to donate to families this weekend compared with about 1,500 a year ago.

"Families that would normally go to Safeway can't afford to with their fixed incomes," Bautista said. "Their dollar is not stretching."

Miriam Canales, 34, of Oakland, has been going weekly to Shiloh for free food since the beginning of the pandemic. Her husband lost his job as a chef at a restaurant that permanently closed in the spring of 2020. He got another job at a different restaurant a few months ago, but he's only working on average six hours a week.

She said higher food prices have added financial stress, and she will not be buying gifts for her children, ages 13 and 6. Instead, she plans to pick up toys on Saturday at Shiloh Church.

But Canales says she feels grateful this holiday season because of her husband's job as well as her daughter's recovery from brain radiation that landed her in the hospital with epilepsy a year ago. Now she's healthy again.

"I feel blessed," Canales said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

AP NORC Inflation
A new AP-NORC poll finds half of Americans with household income below $50,000 say recent price increases are having a major impact on their finances, compared to a third of those in higher income households. AP