05 Dec 2019

Brits let the tills ring out for Christmas as average spend hits £727 for presents and festivities

  • People spend an average of £725 at Xmas on presents, preparations and workplace festivities
  • But more than a third don’t budget at all, while 81 per cent of those who do overspend
  • Nearly one in five admitted to struggling last Christmas, with one in 20 left in significant debt

With Brits set to spend an average of two weeks’ wages in the run up to Christmas, a new poll from Nationwide Building Society shows that a lack of financial planning could leave many struggling.

On average, people are expected to spend £725 each on Christmas - from food and decorations to presents and drinks. When compared with the average UK salary of £29,5881, this equates to nearly two weeks’ take-home pay2.

The poll of 2,000 people, which forms part of the Society’s regular analysis of household finances throughout the year, shows that more than eight in ten (81%) of those who budget overshoot their plans, while 38 per cent don’t have a budget in the first place.

Men are far more likely to tackle Christmas without a budget than women, at 42 per cent versus 33 per cent. But more than eight in ten (84%) women exceed their budget, versus 78 per cent of men. Regionally, the Welsh are least likely to plan, with nearly half (49%) having no strategy for their festive spending. Those in the North East (45%) and Scots (44%) are others who have no budget in place.

Spending this Christmas: Unsurprisingly, the biggest expenditure is presents for the family coming in at £363. However, according to the poll, nearly one in ten (8%) will spend more than £800 on presents alone. The research also shows how people are likely to spend the same amount on alcohol as they will on the Christmas dinner.

The breakdown of average spend is as follows:


Item Average spend
Christmas gifts/presents £363
Christmas dinner/pudding items  £37
Decorations (e.g. baubles, tinsel, mistletoe) £21
Sweets, crisps and other snacks £26
Alcohol £38 
Christmas tree £23
Advent calendars £15


Spending on family members
Children unsurprisingly have the most lavished on them at Christmas, receiving an average of £67 each. However, more than a quarter of Brits (26%) spend more than £100 per child. Unsurprisingly, the spouse or partner is next on the Christmas present list with an average of £63 spent and around one in five (19%) shelling out more than £100. However, nearly one in 20 (4%) admit to not buying anything for the other half. According to the research, men spend an average of £10 more on their partner than women.


Family member Planning to spend 2019 per family member
Children £67
Spouse/partner £63
Mum £40
Dad £33
Siblings £31
Step-parents £29
Grandparents £28
Aunts/Uncles £22
Pets £20


Christmas at work:
The festive period isn’t solely about homelife because for some it also means extra expenditure at work. An average of £142.97 is spent on items including Secret Santa and the work Christmas party. The breakdown of spend is as follows:


Item Average spend 
Secret Santa for work colleagues £20 
Christmas party - food  £23 
Christmas party - drinks  £28 
Christmas party - outfit  £27 
Christmas party - travel  £20 
Additional work Christmas lunch/dinner  £25 


Sometimes festive spending at work isn’t always voluntary because nearly a quarter (23%) of Brits admit to feeling pressurised into buying Secret Santa presents for colleagues. Women are more likely to feel the pressure (29% versus just 17% of men). Nearly one in five (17%) also admit to being pressurised into buying drinks at the work Christmas party, with 15 per cent feeling similar pressure when sorting the party outfit.

Festive financial trouble last Christmas:
As a result of last year’s Christmas expenditure, nearly one in five (18%) said they struggled financially, while one in ten (10%) ended up deep into their overdraft. Worryingly, more than one in 20 (7%) started this year in significant debt. Regionally, those in Greater London (23%) and the East of England struggled the most, with those in the capital most likely to end up in their overdraft (16%). More than one in ten Londoners (11%) ended up in significant debt after last Christmas.

All-year purchases:
Spreading the cost throughout the year is one method for dealing with the cost of Christmas. More than a quarter (26%) of people purchase items for the festive period throughout the year. A third (33%) choose to use savings to cover the cost, while for some, borrowing may be the only option to fund Christmas. According to the Nationwide poll more than a third (34%) turn to credit cards, overdrafts, personal loans or even family.

Forward planning:
This latest poll also highlights the level of forward planning amongst Brits, with nearly a quarter (24%) purchasing Christmas items between two and six months in advance. Women prefer this approach with more than a third (33%) choosing to purchase months in advance compared to just 15 per cent of men. However, not everyone is as well-planned, with more than one in ten (13%) buying items in the week before Christmas day.

Regionally, people in the South West are the best planners. Three in ten (30%) buy items two to six months in advance compared to just 11 per cent of Londoners. In fact, a quarter (25%) of those in the capital choose to make their purchases with less than a week to spare.

Guy Simmonds, Head of Current Account Customer Management at Nationwide, said: “The cost of Christmas can quickly mount up with people spending an average of two weeks’ salary funding the festive period. It’s incredibly easy to spend more than we can afford, which is why many of us start the New Year in debt.

“Planning is vital to sensible spending. We would encourage people to set a budget they can afford and stick to it. And by regularly logging into the online and mobile bank we can ensure we are always on top of our finances. While it may be already be too late for some this Christmas, planning ahead could be what prevents someone from spending more than they can afford at any time of the year. After all, a budget isn’t just for Christmas!”

Notes to editors

  1. Average salary figure taken from the Office of National Statistics Labour Market figures.
  2. Average weekly take home pay - £455