Stressed-Out Americans Plan to Buy Fewer Christmas Gifts, Donate Less to Charity | Kanebridge News
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Stressed-Out Americans Plan to Buy Fewer Christmas Gifts, Donate Less to Charity

Inflation is souring the holiday season, a crucial time when companies, charities and nonprofits typically collect their biggest haul of the year

By Rachel Wolfe and Jon Hilsenrath
Mon, Nov 21, 2022 9:11amGrey Clock 6 min

Households, retailers and charities nationwide, feeling the pinch of inflation, are bracing for a humbug holiday season.

U.S. consumers and businesses have trimmed spending plans for gifts, charitable contributions and holiday events, data show. The penny-pinching threatens to spoil the year-end for many, especially firms and nonprofits that tally their largest share of sales and donations in November and December.

“We’re hopeful for a strong giving season, but we’re not counting on it,” said Thomas Tighe, chief executive of Direct Relief, a medical-assistance nonprofit that takes in around $2 billion a year in donated medicine, supplies and cash to deliver help around the world.

Opal Holt-Philip’s children—ages 5, 9 and 12—will be among those taking the brunt of rising prices. Ms. Holt-Philip has always made sure the children woke on Christmas to piles of presents under the tree, just as she did growing up. Ms. Holt-Philip and her husband, Anthony Philip, typically save for months and shop early to check off wish lists. In past years, that meant more than 20 small presents per child. Not this time.

Rent on the family’s two-bedroom Miami apartment rose to $2,600 a month this spring from $1,365 when they arrived in 2020. With the added pressure of trying to save for a house, Ms. Holt-Philip, a 33-year-old wellness blogger, said she asked her children to settle on one “really good gift” apiece. She and her husband agreed to skip gifts for each other this year.

It all feels wrong, Ms. Holt-Philip said, but “we have to eat.”

Consumer prices have risen faster than wages this year, and high inflation has proved more persistent than many policy makers expected. The high cost of living has unnerved consumers, despite a strong job market, a cushion of household savings built up during the Covid-19 pandemic and a few signs that inflation is slowing.

The University of Michigan estimated that household sentiment in the past six months is comparable to late 2008 and early 2009, when the financial system verged on economic disaster and unemployment was soaring. The index also echoes wary levels of the 1970s, when inflation climbed to double digits.

A Census Bureau survey of households in early October found that 41% of Americans, around 95 million people, said they were having difficulty paying for essential household expenses, compared with 29% a year earlier.

People plan to buy an average of nine gifts this year compared with 16 last year, according to Deloitte consulting’s 37th annual holiday shopping survey of 5,000 respondents in September. Total anticipated spending per household was $1,455, down from $1,463 a year ago, Deloitte said. People in the survey said they also planned to spend less time shopping than they did last year.

The Conference Board, a nonprofit research organization that surveys household confidence each month, said individuals had cut gift spending plans to $613 this year from $648 in 2021. Home décor, furniture, appliances, jewelry and tools are among the categories facing the biggest cuts.

In an August survey of 2,415 adults by Bankrate, the consumer finance website, 84% of holiday shoppers said they would pursue money-saving tactics this year—relying on coupons and discounts, buying fewer items, shopping for cheaper gifts and cheaper brands or making presents themselves.

Of course, the outlook might shift. Economists have found that households don’t always do what they say on survey answers. A drop in gasoline and food prices or a bump in the stock market could boost holiday spending. A recent government report showed retail sales picked up in October, in part because of higher prices.

The best news would likely be a measure of relief from inflation.

‘Mom guilt’

After raising prices for months, some firms are betting that markdowns will buck up sales and clear inventory.

The Toy Association, which represents companies responsible for 96% of all toys sold in the U.S., forecasts a season of price cuts. Apparel prices also are headed down, according to DataWeave Inc., an analytics company that tracks online prices for thousands of retail items. Gap Inc. is offering discounts as high as 60%, a level of savings virtually impossible to find during last year’s holiday season, when supply-chain problems left retailers short of inventory.

Target Corp. executives said last week that consumers have pulled back on spending, sapping sales and profits, and prompting the company to plan discounts to clear out unwanted inventory during the holidays.

Many independent stores can’t afford deep discounts. Keri Piehl, owner of Color Wheel Toys in Albuquerque, N.M., said she had strong sales last year but worries about customers shopping online or at big-box retailers this year. To cut costs, she stopped ordering large paper bags for customer purchases, and, to save on shipping, she is buying more items in bulk. Ms. Piehl said she was storing the extra merchandise in her home office.

High inflation seemed to restrain holiday-season shopping over the past eight decades. Eleven times since World War II, the consumer-price index has equaled or exceeded 6% around holiday time; this year it was at 7.7% as of October. Consumer spending had an average growth rate of 1.2% in those years, compared with a rate of 3.4% in years with lower inflation, Commerce Department data show.

American consumer spending has been on a downward trend for months. After jumping by more than 8% last year, adjusted for inflation, consumer spending grew less than 2% during the first nine months of this year.

“I’m not canceling Christmas. I’m not the Grinch,” Richard House, chief executive of FlexShopper Inc., a Boca Raton, Fla.-based online retailer serving consumers with low credit ratings, told analysts this month. “But we’re cautious regarding the amount of volume that may be there.”

Michael Liersch, a financial planning specialist at Wells Fargo, guides the bank’s army of local advisers in branches around the U.S. He said he was struck by the number of families talking about scaling back this year.

Some are taking children to stores to learn exactly what they want. “No surprises, really keeping it very practical,” Mr. Liersch said. “If you recall 10, 20 to 30 years ago, there was a notion where families had relatives give essential items. Moving back into that. Less discretionary items, more needs.”

Maggie Enriquez, a single mother in Austin, Texas, spent about $1,000 on gifts last year for her 2-year-old daughter, Lela, and her extended family. This year, she plans to wrap toy dinosaurs and games that Lela’s older half-brother doesn’t use anymore for her daughter to open on Christmas.

Ms. Enriquez, 37, is a digital-ad sales development representative at a social-media company, a job she supplements working weekends as an Uber driver to pay for daycare, rent and groceries. Her digital-sales contract is up in March, and she is worried about company budget cuts.

In past years, Ms. Enriquez has contributed to online Christmas wish-list sites and toy drives for children in need. This year, she worries she might have to apply as a recipient rather than a donor.

“I am feeling a bit bereft that I can’t give the way I want to this year,” she said. “I take a lot of pride in being able to provide for my daughter, and when I can’t, I feel really inadequate, and the mom guilt kicks in.”

Tough choices

The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas accounts for between 20% and 30% of charitable donations, according to the Giving USA Foundation.

Leaders of the Salvation Army, whose bell-ringing volunteers collect donations from passersby, are worried. Many people are facing a tough holiday season, Commissioner Kenneth G. Hodder said, “particularly those who have to make choices between buying toys, putting food on the table or paying utilities.”

Requests for assistance from people in need in various spots around the U.S. are up 25% to 50% from last year, Mr. Hodder said, and he expects fewer coins and bills getting dropped into the Salvation Army’s red kettles.

Crowdfunding platform Kiva surveyed 2,000 Americans and found that many planned to give less to charity compared with last year: 44% blamed a lack of funds, 42% said donating was “for the privileged.”

GivingTuesday, a nonprofit, and the Association of Fundraising Professionals said the number of donors nationwide fell steeply in the second quarter, driven by declines in donations of less than $500. Fundraising totals were up 6.2% during that time but didn’t keep pace with the second quarter’s inflation rate of more than 8%.

Holiday work parties also are looking less festive. Avital Ungar, a party planner who works with Fortune 500 companies and startups in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles, said many clients, facing hiring freezes or layoffs, don’t have the budget for elaborate events this year.

Restaurants around the country are feeling the fallout.

Mani Bhushan, who owns four Mexican restaurants in the Dallas area, said that in prepandemic times he would have received dozens of catering orders for 100-plus person Christmas events by this time in the holiday season. He currently has none. Large-group reservations, he said, are down 95% from 2019.

Overall sales numbers are up, Mr. Bhushan said, but he is barely breaking even because of the rising cost of rent, labor and ingredients. A pound of chicken breast is $4.33 compared with $2.99 a year ago. “I used to pay $14 for a good cook,” he said, and now it is $18 an hour for even a marginal cook.

Ms. Holt-Philip, the Miami wellness blogger, is looking on the bright side. She hopes that her family’s limited budget for gifts will keep the focus on the true meaning of the holidays: spending time together.

For the first time, she, her husband and their three children plan to spend Christmas with a dozen or so relatives at a family cabin in Doniphan, Mo. They will roast marshmallows and play Family Feud in front of the fireplace, Ms. Holt-Philip said. With any luck, the children will see their first snowfall.

“Honestly, if this goes as planned,” she said, “a reduced gift-giving Christmas might become our new normal.”


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It Just Had an Energy Crisis, Now Europe Faces a Food Shock

Food prices continue to rise at a rapid pace, surprising central banks and pressuring debt-laden governments

Thu, May 25, 2023 4 min

LONDON—Fresh out of an energy crisis, Europeans are facing a food-price explosion that is changing diets and forcing consumers across the region to tighten their belts—literally.

This is happening even though inflation as a whole is falling thanks to lower energy prices, presenting a new policy challenge for governments that deployed billions in aid last year to keep businesses and households afloat through the worst energy crisis in decades.

New data on Wednesday showed inflation in the U.K. fell sharply in April as energy prices cooled, following a similar pattern around Europe and in the U.S. But food prices were 19.3% higher than a year earlier.

The continued surge in food prices has caught central bankers off guard and pressured governments that are still reeling from the cost of last year’s emergency support to come to the rescue. And it is pressuring household budgets that are also under strain from rising borrowing costs.

In France, households have cut their food purchases by more than 10% since the invasion of Ukraine, while their purchases of energy have fallen by 4.8%.

In Germany, sales of food fell 1.1% in March from the previous month, and were down 10.3% from a year earlier, the largest drop since records began in 1994. According to the Federal Information Centre for Agriculture, meat consumption was lower in 2022 than at any time since records began in 1989, although it said that might partly reflect a continuing shift toward more plant-based diets.

Food retailers’ profit margins have contracted because they can’t pass on the entire price increases from their suppliers to their customers. Markus Mosa, chief executive of the Edeka supermarket chain, told German media that the company had stopped ordering products from several large suppliers because of rocketing prices.

A survey by the U.K.’s statistics agency earlier this month found that almost three-fifths of the poorest 20% of households were cutting back on food purchases.

“This is an access problem,” said Ludovic Subran, chief economist at insurer Allianz, who previously worked at the United Nations World Food Program. “Total food production has not plummeted. This is an entitlement crisis.”

Food accounts for a much larger share of consumer spending than energy, so a smaller rise in prices has a greater impact on budgets. The U.K.’s Resolution Foundation estimates that by the summer, the cumulative rise in food bills since 2020 will have amounted to 28 billion pounds, equivalent to $34.76 billion, outstripping the rise in energy bills, estimated at £25 billion.

“The cost of living crisis isn’t ending, it is just entering a new phase,” Torsten Bell, the research group’s chief executive, wrote in a recent report.

Food isn’t the only driver of inflation. In the U.K., the core rate of inflation—which excludes food and energy—rose to 6.8% in April from 6.2% in March, its highest level since 1992. Core inflation was close to its record high in the eurozone during the same month.

Still, Bank of England Gov. Andrew Bailey told lawmakers Tuesday that food prices now constitute a “fourth shock” to inflation after the bottlenecks that jammed supply chains during the Covid-19 pandemic, the rise in energy prices that accompanied Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and surprisingly tight labor markets.

Europe’s governments spent heavily on supporting households as energy prices soared. Now they have less room to borrow given the surge in debt since the pandemic struck in 2020.

Some governments—including those of Italy, Spain and Portugal—have cut sales taxes on food products to ease the burden on consumers. Others are leaning on food retailers to keep their prices in check. In March, the French government negotiated an agreement with leading retailers to refrain from price rises if it is possible to do so.

Retailers have also come under scrutiny in Ireland and a number of other European countries. In the U.K., lawmakers have launched an investigation into the entire food supply chain “from farm to fork.”

“Yesterday I had the food producers into Downing Street, and we’ve also been talking to the supermarkets, to the farmers, looking at every element of the supply chain and what we can do to pass on some of the reduction in costs that are coming through to consumers as fast as possible,” U.K. Treasury Chief Jeremy Hunt said during The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit in London.

The government’s Competition and Markets Authority last week said it would take a closer look at retailers.

“Given ongoing concerns about high prices, we are stepping up our work in the grocery sector to help ensure competition is working well,” said Sarah Cardell, who heads the CMA.

Some economists expect that added scrutiny to yield concrete results, assuming retailers won’t want to tarnish their image and will lean on their suppliers to keep prices down.

“With supermarkets now more heavily under the political spotlight, we think it more likely that price momentum in the food basket slows,” said Sanjay Raja, an economist at Deutsche Bank.

It isn’t entirely clear why food prices have risen so fast for so long. In world commodity markets, which set the prices received by farmers, food prices have been falling since April 2022. But raw commodity costs are just one part of the final price. Consumers are also paying for processing, packaging, transport and distribution, and the size of the gap between the farm and the dining table is unusually wide.

The BOE’s Bailey thinks one reason for the bank having misjudged food prices is that food producers entered into longer-term but relatively expensive contracts with fertilizer, energy and other suppliers around the time of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in their eagerness to guarantee availability at a time of uncertainty.

But as the pressures being placed on retailers suggest, some policy makers suspect that an increase in profit margins may also have played a role. Speaking to lawmakers, Bailey was wary of placing any blame on food suppliers.

“It’s a story about rebuilding margins that were squeezed in the early part of last year,” he said.


The largest single-dwelling sales of the calendar year.


Sales volumes and median prices on the rise in the N.T

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