Survey: Americans, Especially Women, Aren't Feeling Too Generous This Holiday Season

Personal financial stress may impact how charitable Americans are this holiday season.

Personal financial stress survey
Updated May 13, 2024
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After a long year of ups and downs, the giving season is finally upon us! There’s just something about the vibe and holidays in November and December that brings out our desire to spend time with friends and family while sharing love, laughter, and some presents, too.

We at FinanceBuzz wanted to gauge how American consumers are feeling going into the 2019 holiday giving season. What we found in our exclusive survey is that generosity may be in short supply this year, as the financial stress of the holiday season looms.

Here is a closer look at our survey results and what they say about how consumers are feeling about the upcoming holidays.

Key Findings

  • Respondents overwhelmingly (89%) were more thankful for good health than for money, though younger respondents favored money over health more often than the older generations.
  • Nearly 70% of respondents said they would choose taking a gift for themselves over being able to gift a charitable donation. Men were more likely to choose giving to charity (37%) versus women (25%).
  • Given both fun and practical options for a holiday wish to be granted, most respondents went practical. 30% would have their mortgage/rent paid for a year, 17% would double retirement savings and 15% would cancel credit card debt. Only 12% wished for a free trip anywhere in the world and 8% a 6-month break from work.
In this article

Money or health - Which are we more thankful for?

It’s been said that if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. This is an adage that seems to still be true, as our survey found that most people are much more thankful for having good health this year than for the amount of money they have.

A total of 89% of respondents said they’re more thankful for good health than for money. When you look at how this breaks down among age groups, younger respondents were more likely to choose money over health versus their older cohorts. While only 77% of 18- to 24-year-olds said they’re more thankful for good health than money, a nearly unanimous 96% of respondents age 55 and older said the same.

Could it be that with age comes more perspective about health or that the younger you are, the healthier you are? Both may well be true.

Only 3 in 10 of us are feeling charitable

Despite what the previous data may suggest about how Americans value health over money, when asked if they would rather receive a gift they could use themselves or one they could donate to charity, only 30% would choose to share.

We asked respondents two related questions about choosing a gift for themselves and one to give away, and for each question, the answers were split the same. 

Almost 70% would take an all-expenses-paid trip to a beach resort over taking $5,000 that they could give to charity. Similarly, almost 70% would choose $1,000 cash for themselves over 10x the cash, but for charity.

The holidays are a stressful time of year for many, but studies have found it’s women who take charge of many of the seasonal obligations and therefore are the ones feel the brunt of the increased stress this time of year. Perhaps that's why our survey found only 25% of women would choose to give to charity versus 37% of men. With the financial pressure to buy gifts, entertain, and decorate, the idea of having a little extra cash might just be too much to pass up, despite more charitable intentions.

Top holiday wishes: Mortgage & retirement help

When it comes to holiday wishes, nearly 30% of our respondents said what they would like most is a year off from having to pay rent or a mortgage, followed by 17% who would like to double their retirement savings, and 15% would like to wish away their credit card debt.

Having their rent/mortgage paid for a year was the top wish for all age groups, except for those 55 or older. In this group, 36% would choose to have their retirement funds doubled, suggesting that they are eyeing financial security for their next stage in life.

Respondents younger than age 35 had different concerns in mind when picking their holiday wishes. For this age group canceling their student loan debt was the second most popular option after having the mortgage/rent paid. Since Americans under age 35 carry $612 billion in outstanding student loan debt, this would be a financially prudent choice for many.

Respondents overwhelming chose options that would help their day-to-day finances, but a contingent did choose to take life experiences over financial rewards with 12% wishing for a free trip anywhere in the world and 8% choosing a six-month paid break from work.

Again we saw gender differences in the responses with 14% of women opting for the free trip, making it the third most popular choice amongst the women surveyed. Only 11% of men chose this option. Perhaps, the additional holiday stress women feel is also making them dream for some downtime.

Top 3 wishes chosen by women Top 3 wishes chosen by men
  1. Pay my rent/mortgage for a year (34%)
  2. Cancel my credit card debt (15%)
  3. Take a free trip anywhere in the world (14%)
  1. Pay my rent/mortgage for a year (25%)
  2. Double my retirement savings (22%)
  3. Cancel my credit card debt (15%)

What it all comes down to

It’s clear from these findings that Americans are searching for a balance between practicality and enjoyment of the season during the fall and winter holidays. Financial concerns don’t fall away with the coming of some downtime meant to be used to relax with friends and family. In fact, they may become more pronounced as we spend more money than we normally would during November and December to buy gifts, food, and the trappings that come with holiday celebrations.

The fact that most of those who participated in our survey are most thankful for good health rather than what is in the bank says a lot about what we truly value. However, our thoughts are never far from present and future financial obligations, even as we give ourselves a pass to take some time away from the daily grind and have some fun. More than anything else, the results of this survey tell us that even though we are heading into the season of giving, personal financial stress will greatly influence how charitable Americans are likely to be. However, it's not too late to start budgeting and working on how to manage your money so you'll be in a better position come next holiday season.


FinanceBuzz conducted this survey on Oct. 2, 2019 by polling 1,000 U.S. adults using the Pollfish platform.

Author Details

Robin Kavanagh

Robin is a freelance writer who lives on the South Carolina beach. She has spent the last 20 years writing about all kinds of topics for publications such as The New York Times, Yes! Magazine, Next Tribe, Parenting, and various trade magazines. On, you’ll find her mostly writing about smart ways to use credit cards, navigating personal loans, how to save when traveling, and ways to improve your financial health.