This Is How Much the Average American Will Spend on Christmas This Year

iStock.com/CatLane
iStock.com/CatLane

The average American will spend $633 on Christmas this year, according to a new poll by LendEDU, an online marketplace for financial products. That’s enough money to buy two 43-inch televisions, an Alaskan cruise, or roughly 250 tacos.

For LendEDU’s poll, 1000 adults who celebrate Christmas were asked how much they expect to spend this year on decorations, gifts, travel, and other holiday-related expenses. Unsurprisingly, your dearest friends and family place the greatest strain on your wallet, with gifts accounting for 54 percent of overall spending, or around $342. Travel is the second-largest expense, accounting for $133 of the total budget. Other holiday expenses cost $89, while decorations are expected to set the average family back $70.

While this may seem like a lot of money to throw away on a holiday, it represents a $75 drop in spending from last Christmas, according to LendEDU’s figures. Still, 22 percent of poll respondents said they expect to go into debt as a result of their Christmas spending. On average, those Americans said they anticipate being $554 in the red this year.

One of the more surprising findings is that families are still doing much of their Christmas shopping in brick and mortar outlets. Of the poll respondents, 51 percent said they planned to buy most of their gifts at a store, while 46 percent said they would do their shopping online. Two percent said they were making their own presents, while one percent still relied on good old-fashioned catalogs.

There are ways to cut back on Christmas spending, but it will require some careful deliberations. If you still need to do some last-minute shopping but don’t want to break the bank this Christmas, check out these 11 gifts that cost $10-$25.

The Tumultuous History of Tinsel

PoppyPixels/iStock via Getty Images
PoppyPixels/iStock via Getty Images

When December rolls around, we find ourselves asking the same questions: What’s in figgy pudding? Why do I need to make the Yuletide gay? And what is tinsel exactly?

That last question is only slightly less mystifying than the first two. Many of us have seen tinsel—if not in person, then in one of the countless holiday movies and television specials that air this time of year. It’s the stringy, shiny, silvery stuff that’s hung up as decoration, primarily on Christmas trees. But what is it made of? And why is it associated with the holiday season? This is where the seemingly simple decoration gets complicated.

Tinsel is one of the cheaper items used to trim trees today, but that wasn’t always the case. In 17th century Germany, the first Christmas trees were embellished with tinsel made from real silver pressed into strips. These early Christmas trees were also decorated with real, lit candles, and the silver combined with the flickering firelight created a twinkly effect that worked as a precursor to modern-day string lights.

Silver tinsel did have its drawbacks. It was expensive, so only the wealthiest families had access to it. And those who did have enough money to own tinsel had a limited window to use it, as the metal often tarnished before December 25.

By the early 1900s, the Christmas traditions imported by German immigrants had become mainstream in the U.S. Americans were looking for affordable ways to beautify the evergreens in their living rooms, so manufacturers started making tinsel out of aluminum and copper. The updated decorations produced the same festive sparkle as the silver versions, but for a fraction of the price; also, they could be reused year after year. But they weren’t perfect: The aluminum paper in tinsel was extremely flammable, making it a disastrous choice for dry trees decorated with lights. When World War I began, copper production was funneled toward the war effort and tinsel disappeared from holiday displays.

Its absence turned out to be temporary. Despite centuries of hiccups, makers of holiday decor still believed tinsel deserved a place in modern Christmas celebrations. They just needed to come up with the right material to use, something that could be hung in every home without any backlash. In the early 20th century, the clear choice was lead.

Lead revived tinsel from obscurity, and soon it was embraced as a standard Christmas component along with ornaments and electric lights. It became so popular in the 1950s and ‘60s that tinsel is often thought of as a mid-century fad rather than a tradition that’s been around as long as Christmas trees themselves.

With so many synthetic decorations becoming available around Christmastime, tinsel made from metal was considered one of the safer items to have in the home. A 1959 newspaper article on holiday safety reads: “Tinsel is fairly safe, because even if kiddies decide to swallow it, it will not cause poisoning.”

As we know today, tinsel made from lead isn’t “fairly safe.” Lead that gets ingested or absorbed through the skin can cause headaches, vomiting, constipation, and in extreme cases, brain and kidney damage. Young children are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning.

In the 1970s, the U.S. government started setting limits on how much lead can be in consumer products, and in 1972, the FDA came to an agreement with tinsel manufacturers that production of the lead product would cease.

It may not be as en vogue as it was 60 years ago, but tinsel still resurfaces every holiday season. So if the tinsel we use today isn’t made from silver, copper, aluminum, or lead, what is it? The answer is polyvinyl chloride. Industrial machines shred shiny ribbons of the plastic to make the wispy strands that add a bit of glamour to Christmas trees. Plastic tinsel isn’t as elegant as the kind made from real metal, and it’s lightweight, so it’s less likely to stay put after it’s hung over a pine branch. For these reasons, PVC tinsel never caught on to the degree of its predecessor, but it still succeeds in bringing vintage bling to the holidays without poisoning your family.

9 Brilliant Gifts for the Gardener in Your Life

AeroGarden/Amazon
AeroGarden/Amazon

A proven method of relaxation, gardening can ease the stresses of daily life and provide a rich resource for giving homes a unique and colorful identity. If you know someone with a green thumb, consider these nine gift ideas sure to plant a seed of gratitude.

1. Succulent Gardens Living Picture DIY Kit; $105

Succulent planter DIY kit
Amazon

Vertical gardening is a conversation-starter, and you can help a friend ignite one with this do-it-yourself kit. The redwood frame uses a thin layer of mesh to keep succulent plants—included in the kit—hanging in there.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Burgon & Ball Coated Galvanized Steel Long Reach Indoor Watering Can; $46

Watering can
Uncommon Goods

Sure, your loved ones could use an empty jug to water their plants—if they enjoy drowning the greenery. But this watering can has a slender spout that prevents the needless mess that cans with wider openings can make. Plus, that longer spout makes it easy to get water to those hard-to-reach plants you may have hanging indoors.

Buy It: Amazon

3. Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller; $115

If you know someone looking to seize more control over their sprinkler system to help conserve water, the Rachio system is the one to beat. The module can replace virtually any existing central command center, connecting to the Rachio app and allowing for on-the-go control of the timer. Rachio will even sync the system to weather forecasts, easing up when it’s expected to rain.

Buy It: Amazon

4. Gardener’s Tool Seat; $36

Foldable for storage, this seat cures two of gardening’s most annoying demands: not having a place to sit and not having the right tool within reach. A small stool saves wear on the knees, while 21 pockets and a large pouch under the seat offer room for any implement you need.

Buy It: UncommonGoods

5. "The Taxonomy of Fruits & Vegetables" Poster; $40

This sprawling 24-inch-by-36-inch guide, detailing more than 300 varieties of produce, can be hung on a kitchen wall for easy reference. Your giftee will never again have to guess how a cantaloupe or mangosteen is related to other fruits and vegetables.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Aerogarden Harvest Elite 360; $130

the indoor AeroGarden
AeroGarden / Amazon

If you know someone who wants to keep a supply of fresh herbs for the kitchen but gets lost in the details, AeroGarden's indoor growing system is a perfect solution. The soil-free bed can grow basil, parsley, dill, and other seasonings using a fool-proof on-board display that offers care instructions in real time.

Buy It: Amazon

7. Hanging Terrariums; $13

This set includes two glass plant homes plus rustic jute rope for hanging them from the ceiling or window frame. And the flat bottom also allows them to sit on desk. Your giftee will need to supply the plants and other decor—may we suggest a couple of Tillandsia, a.k.a. air plants? They can thrive with almost no water or soil, making them ideal for these petite orbs.

Buy It: Amazon

8. Bokashi Kitchen Composter; $55

If making compost from food scraps sounds unappealing, it’s probably because you haven’t come across the right tool for the job yet. This Bokashi-style composter fits neatly under a kitchen sink and accepts food waste to mix with an all natural accelerator to create topsoil for gardens. The airproof lid guarantees no funky smell; the included spigot can also produce liquid fertilizer for houseplants.

Buy It: Uncommon Goods

9. Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Work And Gardening Gloves; $10

The biggest inconvenience of gardening: trying to scrub the dirt off your hands. The second-biggest: dealing with the sweat produced by rubber-coated gloves. Solution: bamboo, which allows the gloves to breathe, is naturally antibacterial, and ensures a snug fit.

Buy It: Amazon

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