Christmas Spending Gone Global

Christmas Spending Gone Global

Why you should care

Because compared to these countries, America is a nation of Grinches.

Americans seem to be tightening their belts. On Sunday, the National Retail Federation reported that Thanksgiving shopping dropped 5.2 percent compared with 2013, and spending slid 11.3 percent. But were Americans ever such big holiday spenders to begin with?

Sure, Americans generally spend more on Christmas per capita: $703 in 2013. It’s unusual when another country spends more, as Luxemburg did last year. But it turns out that from South Africa to Greece, shoppers in a few countries will spend proportionally more of their income on Christmas this year than Americans, the world’s much-derided pinnacle of consumerism. Even Russians party harder on Jesus’ birthday.

Relative spending measures per capita holiday spending against per capita income. Atop that list are South Africans, who will spend an average of 144 euros ($180) on gifts for the holidays, according to a survey by professional services firm Deloitte. That accounts for 15 percent of the average adult’s yearly income, based on Gallup figures. In other words, South Africans spend relatively triple the amount on presents, compared to income, as Americans, who will allocate $781 for gifts, or 5 percent of per capita income. Of course, rich people skew the figures for everyone, and income inequality in South Africa is much higher than the U.S.

Look at the Greeks, spending just under 6 percent of their budget for one day!

Next on the list … Russia. That’s right, Russians plan to spend slightly more than 6 percent of their annual income on the holidays. Although, who knows? Maybe President Putin will bus shoppers in from Siberia to run up the national receipt. After communism, the consumption contest might eclipse the space race.

Then there’s a country with more than 26.6 percent unemployment and a truly abysmal economy: Greece. After receiving a bailout in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Athens bore the condescending brunt of Brussels’ fiscal fury. Now look at the Greeks, spending just under 6 percent of their budget for one day! OK, OK, maybe after experiencing economic growth for the first time in six years, the Greek people should at least be given license to a mercy shopping spree. (Don’t tell Chancellor Merkel.)

What’s everyone spending on? For Americans, count on opening your stockings and finding a gun, a drone or a princess from Disney’s Frozen. One the other side of the pond, almost half of all presents will be books, which isn’t enough to satisfy how many people actually want books. Listen Santa, books are great, but I’ll take a drone.

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