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With coronavirus cases again on the rise, two out of three Americans say they don’t plan to travel far from home over the holidays, and most will cut back on holiday gift spending. But most Americans aren’t planning to quarantine on Thanksgiving and give up visits with extended family and friends.

That’s according to a Nov. 9 survey of 1,106 adults that adds to evidence that the economy is experiencing a “K-shaped” recovery, with households earning close to or less than the median income more likely to cut back on holiday gift spending.

Key findings from the survey:

Pandemic holiday plans: Survey findings

Two-thirds say their holiday travel plans have changed

Most Americans (66.9%) say the pandemic has affected their holiday travel plans. That’s even more likely to be the case in households with incomes of $75,000 or more, with 71.8% saying it has (click tabs in chart to segment survey results by income). Median U.S. household income was $68,703 in 2019.

Most Americans staying home for the holidays

Most Americans (66.3%) plan to stay home for the holidays, but an even higher percentage (69.6%) of families with household incomes of $75,000 or more say that’s the case. Overall, slightly more people plan to travel over the Christmas/Hanukkah holiday (22.7%) than Thanksgiving (21.8%).

The trend is reversed among households earning above the median income. In both cases, the difference is less than the survey’s 3% margin of error.

Fewer people are planning to travel in states where Covid-19 infection rates are high

Looking at the survey results across nine U.S. Census regions, residents of the Pacific region — California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii — were the most likely to say they planned to travel over the holidays. Close to four in 10 West Coast residents (39.4%) said they planned to travel over Thanksgiving, Christmas, or both.

That’s in contrast to responses from the Northern plains states in the West North Central region, where only about one in five (22.9%) reporting they had travel plans.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, as of Nov. 16, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska were among the 10 states with the highest Covid-19 case rates per 100,000 people reported in the last seven days.

Most don’t plan to quarantine on Thanksgiving

Although most Americans aren’t planning long trips, only 28.7% say they plan to quarantine, foregoing in-person get togethers with extended family and friends.

Households with less than $75,000 in annual income were more likely to say that they planned to quarantine (30.2%), but also to report that they planned to spend Thanksgiving with a larger group of family and friends than usual (8.1%).

Christmas and Hanukkah gatherings are also planned

About one in four of those surveyed (26.6%) said they planned to quarantine during the Christmas/Hanukkah holidays, and not see extended family and friends.

Households of modest means are cutting spending on gifts the most

The majority of those surveyed (56.1%) said they’ll be spending less than usual on gifts over the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays.

But the impact of the pandemic was more pronounced on those with household income below $75,000, with nearly two-thirds (62.1%) saying they planned to cut back. In contrast, less than half of families (47.8%) earning $75,000 or more said they’d be cutting back on gifts.

Wealthier families are more likely to splurge on gifts

Although most of those surveyed (69.7%) said they plan to spend no more than $500 on gifts over the holidays, about one in 10 (9.0%) said they’ve budgeted $1,000 or more.

People from wealthier families were more than three times as likely to be planning a gift-buying spree. Among those with household incomes of $75,000 or more, 16.2% said they plan to spend $1,000 or more on holiday gifts, compared to 4.6% of people earning less than $75,000.

Most will pay cash instead of borrowing for gifts

Most Americans would rather not rack up new debt buying holiday gifts, with 54.4% reporting they plan to pay cash for their purchases. If they do borrow, credit cards or store credit are the preferred methods (43.9%), trumping personal loans (1.3%) and home equity loans (0.4%).

Wealthier respondents are more willing to finance a gift-buying spree, with 50% saying they’re planning to whip out their credit cards or accept offers of store credit. Among families earning less than $75,000 a year, only 39.8% said they planned to pay for gifts with a credit card, while 58.1% said they’d pay cash.

Methodology: SurveyMonkey Audience online poll of 1,106 adults conducted Nov. 9, 2020. Margin of error plus or minus 3%.

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About the author
Matt Carter
Matt Carter

Matt Carter is an expert on student loans. Analysis pieces he’s contributed to have been featured by CNBC, CNN Money, USA Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

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