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Stress and dread

Study: Holiday shopping evokes stress, dread in Americans

MoneyRates.com Senior Financial Analyst, CFA
December 17, 2014

Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Is it all too much? Most Americans say yes.

According to a new poll from MoneyRates.com, nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults say they feel some level of stress when they think about holiday shopping. A majority also say they would feel some level of relief if a friend proposed not exchanging gifts, and two-thirds say there is too much emphasis on gift giving during the holidays.

Also, you can forget about the cliché of women as shopaholics. The poll indicates that women are more averse to holiday shopping than men.

Shopper fatigue

The poll, which surveyed 2,000 U.S. adults, suggests that Americans, and women in particular, are tired and burned-out from holiday shopping.

Here are some of the notable symptoms:

1. Stress and dread have replaced comfort and joy. Only 14 percent of poll respondents say that joy is their dominant emotion when it comes to holiday shopping. More people (15 percent) describe their reaction as "outright dread." The most common response, at 37 percent, is "a mix of joy and stress," but in total, 72 percent of responses indicate at least some degree of stress over holiday shopping.
2. Couldn't we just skip it? Most Americans say they would feel at least some level of relief if a friend suggested not exchanging gifts. Fifty-seven percent of respondents indicate this, including 39 percent who say they would feel mostly relief, and 19 percent who say they would feel a mixture of relief and sadness. Just 4 percent indicate their dominant feeling would be anger or sadness.
3. Enough with the hype! Two-thirds of respondents say there is too much emphasis on gift giving during the holidays, including 34 percent who say there is way too much emphasis, and 32 percent who say there is a little too much. In contrast, only 25 percent feel the amount of emphasis on gift giving is just right, and very few -- just 3 percent -- say there is not enough emphasis. No information is available on how many among that 3 percent are executives at major retailers.
4. Honey, couldn't you do the shopping? Sitcoms and commercials frequently depict women as rabid shoppers, often dragging a reluctant husband behind them. However, the poll results show that women hate holiday shopping even more than men. Both dislike it, but women are more likely to view it with outright dread (18 percent vs. 12 percent for men) and express at least some degree of stress over it (74 percent vs. 70 percent).
5. Men would miss presents more. Not only do women dislike holiday shopping more, but the poll indicates that they would miss the gifts less than men. Forty-three percent of women say they would feel mostly relief if a friend suggested they forgo gift giving, compared with 35 percent of men. Men are also more than twice as likely as women to say their primary reaction to such a suggestion would be anger or sadness.
6. Women are particularly sick of the hype. Consistent with their lower regard for holiday shopping and gift giving, women are more likely than men to say there is too much emphasis on holiday gift giving. Seventy-three percent of women indicate this, compared with 60 percent of men.

Reclaiming the holiday spirit

Disliking holiday shopping or the emphasis on gift giving does not have to mean saying "bah, humbug!" to the holiday spirit. Here are some ideas that might help you reclaim that spirit:

1. Try the gift of not giving. At least feel out your friends about their feelings regarding the hassles involved in holiday shopping. You may find you are both relieved to give it a rest -- and that in itself can be a gift.
2. Give to those who really need it. To show you are not just being cheap, make charitable contributions in your friends' names in lieu of giving them gifts.
3. Use your talents. Bake, sew, baby-sit, change someone's oil -- give gifts that are more about your abilities than commercialism.
4. When you find yourself exchanging gift cards, you are wasting both time and money. If you can't think of anything better to do, you should both agree that doing nothing might be better. Or, perhaps just spending time together would be a more meaningful gift to each other.

If so many people feel negatively toward holiday shopping, why is it such big business? Perhaps because the expectation of gift giving is so high. For a more joyful holiday season, try breaking free of that expectation. You shouldn't let the hype around holiday shopping and gift giving lead you into habits that don't bring happiness to you and your friends.

After all, the holidays are supposed to be about many things, but peer pressure isn't one of them.

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