Are You Guilty of 'Doom Spending' This Holiday Season? Retailers Hope So

A concerning new trend related to record holiday spending is threatening your financial stability.
Updated July 11, 2024
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The aftermath of this year's Black Friday and Cyber Monday reveals a scenario that could spell trouble for the economy and, in turn, your personal finances.  

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While the records set in consumer spending are usually celebrated, a deeper look at where and how the money was spent this year raises some red flags for the economy. Discount retailers witnessed historic sales, but the alarming "doom spending" trend casts a shadow over the outlook of your finances next year.

Doom spending is happening much more than normal

Despite 96% of Americans expressing economic concerns, the National Retail Federation reports an unprecedented turnout of 200 million shoppers during the Black Friday to Cyber Monday shopping frenzy. The concern comes not from the sheer volume of spending but from the patterns observed — a surge in discount retail purchases and a growing inclination towards "doom spending."

Doom spending, characterized as spending money despite economic concerns, has become a trending behavior. This mindset, prevalent among Gen Z and millennials, poses significant economic risks and, if sustained through the holiday season, could have far-reaching consequences in 2024.

Discount retailers see the largest increases in holiday shopping

Discount retailers, in particular,  experienced a boom in sales, indicating that consumers are looking to save money while shopping. While saving money is a prudent choice, the worry is that doom spending might lead to a surge in credit card debt, particularly with record-high interest rates exceeding $1 trillion. Heightened economic concerns and increased spending warrant a pause for those on the same track. Financial experts express apprehension about the implications of this trend.

Younger generations are shopping instead of saving

Younger generations, especially Gen Z, are reluctant to cut expenses, with 73% expressing a preference for living in the moment, as revealed by a Prosperity Index study by Intuit. High inflation compounds the problem, with 53% of Gen Zers citing increased living costs as a barrier to financial success, according to a Bank of America survey.

The concern remains that this generation, identified as the biggest cohort of non-savers, may be accumulating credit card debt rather than saving for the future.

The danger lies in the immediate impact on personal finances and the potential ripple effects on the broader economy in 2024. If doom spending persists, the consequences could include a surge in credit card debt, a misguided belief that spending beyond means is sustainable, and a lack of preparation for unforeseen financial challenges.

What you can do

A temporary uptick in spending during the holidays is not a big deal, but spending is one of the areas of personal finance where it is truly never okay to let up for long. The old adage “pay yourself first” rings true — setting up an automatic paycheck deduction each month into a dedicated high-yield savings account is wise.

From there, it is critical to eliminate credit card debt as soon as possible. Buy now pay later features and interest-free payments (for furniture or other household items that last for a defined amount of time) are loans at the end of the day. Paying off several things at once should always be temporary and not an approach to personal financial fitness. You could put yourself at serious financial risk by spending money you do not have — be it all at once on a credit card or in installments of a larger item you cannot afford.

Ultimately, being cautious and making sure your finances are protected can help you eliminate a lot of money stress. Having an emergency fund and not taking on unnecessary debt can be all the difference if your finances take a hit in 2024. 

Bottom line

The allure of discounts and the thrill of holiday shopping seem to have overshadowed the underlying economic worries. As we navigate the season of spending, it becomes imperative to balance enjoying the present and securing the financial future. Automating savings, reducing credit card reliance, and fostering a culture of responsible spending are essential steps to mitigate the risks associated with doom spending. The trends observed during the holiday season will undoubtedly shape the economic landscape in the coming year, making it crucial to address and rectify unsustainable financial behaviors.

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Author Details

Georgina Tzanetos Georgina Tzanetos is a former financial advisor who has been active in financial media for the past six years. She holds a master's in political economy from NYU, where she studied distressed labor markets.