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Personal Finance

Canadians plan to spend most of seasonal budget on gifts: survey

Despite the pandemic, shoppers have managed to save money for holiday gift shopping, says the CPA Canada’s 2020 Holiday Spending Study
Photo illustration of a gift box with a medical mask wrapped around it.

According to the CPA Canada survey, most Canadians’ spending will be on gifts: $588 this year versus $583 in 2019

Normally, this is the time of year for making lists and checking them twice and for pulling out all the stops in preparation for the festive season ahead.

But as we know, this isn’t just any kind of year. Although COVID-19 continues to ravage many sectors in the economy, 37 per cent of respondents to CPA Canada’s 2020 Holiday Spending Survey have still managed to set aside money for gifts.

“COVID-19 has caused a blizzard of uncertainty this year,” says Doretta Thompson, CPA Canada’s financial literacy leader. “What is important this holiday season is that Canadians make a budget, stay on track and remember the true meaning behind the season.”

Here are five likely trends to consider when thinking about spending this holiday season—and how to adapt.


According to the CPA Canada survey, most Canadians’ spending will be on gifts: $588 this year versus $583 in 2019.

As CPA Bill Stephenson, a sole practitioner and volunteer with CPA Canada’s financial literacy program, explains, “Some people might want to make up for a difficult year by treating themselves a little bit. So, spending on furniture and beauty products is likely to remain strong. Old-fashioned gifts, such as board games, might also be popular, because people are going to be stuck at home rather than going out socializing.”


Spending on entertainment is likely to dip; in fact, 13 per cent of respondents plan to spend nothing at all—a large proportion of the 59 per cent who plan to spend less than $200.

“Last year, I suggested several ways for people to save on seasonal entertaining, such as holding potlucks,” says Stephenson. “But, this year, all the socializing that usually happens over the holidays is unfortunately going to stop. We won’t be seeing any Christmas parties, whether corporate or personal. So, people won’t be buying fancy outfits and going to parties. There will be less temptation to overspend.”


Travel is expected to take a big hit, with one-third of CPA Canada’s holiday survey respondents saying they do not plan to spend anything on travel. In addition, 38 per cent are planning to spend less than $200. “Normally, travel can be a big expense during the holiday season, because people go home to spend time with family and friends,” says Stephenson. “But, with cases spiking and the federal advisory still in place, I don’t think Canadians are going to be heading too far away from home. We might engage in outdoor activities, but within fairly close range.”


As might be expected, in-person shopping will almost certainly be down.

“When we were conducting this survey in October, only 30 per cent planned to do the majority of their holiday gift shopping in-store,” says Thompson. “And, given the deteriorating pandemic situation in many parts of the country, that number may now be optimistic for in-person shopping.”

This move away from bricks-and-mortar shopping will naturally be coupled with an even greater shift toward online options: one in three survey respondents said they will do the majority of their holiday gift shopping online, compared to less than one in five in 2019.

As Stephenson notes, this could trigger a need for more planning. “This year, shopping won’t be a simple matter of saying, ‘I’m going to go walk around a mall and buy based on what I feel in the moment.’ That might happen but not nearly as much,” he says. “Who knows if the malls will be open? Also, with the growth of online shopping, you have to factor in shipping delays. The highways are already full of trucks and much of that is e-commerce. So, most people will be starting holiday shopping early because, if they wait till the last minute, their purchases might not be shipped in time.”


Overall, with spending down this year, Stephenson thinks Canadians shouldn’t be concerned about enjoying a few small indulgences.

“If some people want to buy a few items for their home, or get some gifts for their family and friends, they shouldn’t feel badly about it. It’s been a tough year so I can’t begrudge anyone buying a few nice sensible things for themselves and their family.

“Hallowe’en was largely cancelled, Thanksgiving was a very small affair and, the way things are heading, we won’t be seeing any parties during the holiday season. So, I think people should enjoy themselves.”


For more on how Canadians plan to spend for the festive season, see the 2020 Holiday Spending Survey. And to learn more about how the pandemic is affecting Canadians’ finances, see CPA Canada’s survey on the subject.