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Americans won’t be going crazy with holiday gifting this year

Shoppers walk among Christmas decorations in a shopping mall during the fourth wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic on December 20, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

(CNN) — The kids, the grandparents, the babysitter, maybe your favorite aunt or uncle. That’s it.

You can blame inflation for families knocking friends, co-workers and extended families off your holiday gift lists this year.

Persistent inflation — consumer prices increased by 8.5% in July over last year — has reshaped how we are budgeting for everyday necessities and occasional indulgences. Prices are up for everything from groceries to clothing, shoes, stationery items and more.

It’s also forced many households to tap into their savings or rack up more credit card debt just to keep up with the higher cost of living. Over the past year, credit card debt has jumped by $100 billion, or 13%, the biggest percentage increase in more than 20 years.

What does all this mean for the upcoming 2022 holiday shopping season? Less. A lot less.

It’ll be a stark contrast from last year’s robust holiday performance, according to a new forecast from consulting firm Deloitte.

It expects retail sales for the key year-end gift-buying months of November, December and January (when post Christmas gift cards are redeemed) to increase 4% to 6%.

This compares with a robust 15.1% increase for the same time frame last year, but this year’s expected slower growth is in line with where holiday retail sales were trending pre-pandemic.

The projected sharp pullback from last year “reflects the slowdown in the economy,” Daniel Bachman, Deloitte’s US economic forecaster, said in a report. “Retail sales are likely to be further affected by declining demand for durable consumer goods, which had been the centerpiece of pandemic spending.”

The 15% growth in holiday shopping last season was also largely due to the “uncommon circumstances surrounding the pandemic, namely the shift to spending on “things rather than experience and the extra cash provided by the stimulus checks,” said Andrew Forman, associate professor of marketing, at Hofstra University’s Frank G. Zarb School of Business.

“This year’s shopping season is likely to be challenging for retailers,” he said.

Smaller gifts

Among the gifting categories that are still expected to do well this year are clothing, toys and gift cards. Spending in restaurants, entertainment and travel should also perk up, said Rod Sides, vice chair with Deloitte and head of its US retail and distribution practice.

“Overall, there will still be sales growth but it won’t be as dramatic as last year,” said Sides. “If there are fewer gift purchases by consumers, expect to see even more holiday promotions than ever.”

Separately, the firm expects online holiday spending to increase 12.8% to 14.3% in 2022, outpacing last year’s 8.4% jump.

Inflation won’t be the Grinch that completely stole Christmas, according to Neil Saunders, retail analyst and managing director at GlobalData Retail. But any modest sales growth, he said, largely be driven by inflation and sales volumes will be flat to negative across most categories.

“Gifting will remain an important part of the holidays, but consumers will be much more frugal and practical in their gift spending. That means cutting back on gifting to non-family members such as colleagues or friends, so gifting circles will shrink,” he said.

If consumers are planning fewer gifts, they will likely try to make them more meaningful, said Saunders.

“They will be keen to ensure they are things that are wanted rather than fripperies that are a bit of a waste of money. Practical gifts will be in, including the gifting of cash and gift cards so that recipients can choose exactly what they want,” he said.

One area where there won’t be much of a cutback? Gifts for kidsSaid Saunders, “Parents are always keen to pull out all the stops to ensure children have a great holiday.”

— CNN’s Matt Egan contributed to this story.