Halloween decorations are still coming down, but many Canadians are already thinking about Christmas shopping – and how they’ll afford it.

A new survey by Equifax Canada suggests that more than half of Canadians plan to spend less money on gifts this year than in the past. Many reported anxiety about their personal debt levels and concerns about how long it will take to pay off credit card bills.

Household debt levels in Canada have steadily risen and drawn high-level concerns from the Bank of Canada. Canadians owe roughly $1.77 in credit market debt for every dollar of household disposable income, according to recent Statistics Canada figures.

That debt is “concerning,” especially around the holidays, said Equifax Canada’s director of consumer advocacy Julie Kuzmic. 

“If there’s a silver lining here, it’s the fact that most Canadians remain conscious of their debt obligations and want to avoid adding too much debt heading into the new year,” Kuzmic said in a statement.

The online survey polled 1,566 Canadians over three days in September. Fifty-five per cent of those surveyed said they planned to spend less on presents. Women were more likely than men to say they’ll cut back, with 61 per cent of women saying they intended to spend less, versus 48 per cent of men.

Financial anxiety is also a major concern this holiday season. Forty-six per cent of respondents under the age of 55 said they had “a lot” of anxiety about their current debt levels.

The highest levels of anxiety were among respondents between the ages of 35 and 44.

“I suspect that it is related to life-stage situations,” Kuzmic told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.


There are a variety of debt sources that may be casting dark clouds over shopping budgets. Kuzmic cited car loans, credit card loans and lines of credit as the common culprits.

In anticipation of increased holiday spending, 58 per cent of respondents said they were preparing a holiday budget.

It’s too soon to say whether or not shoppers will stick to those budgets, but more than one in three respondents said it takes them a month or more to pay off their holiday spending.

The survey isn’t exactly good news for retailers, Kuzmic said.

“One thing that has crossed my mind is that retailers aren’t happy to see this kind of message coming out that people are looking to reduce their spending,” Kuzmic said.

“But on the other hand, it certainly doesn’t help the economy at large if you have such a debt-laden population that you go into a downward spiral, that’s not going to help anybody in the end.”

The findings appear to show a shift in Christmas spending habits. Last year, a random survey of 1,477 Canadian consumers found that most Canadians had not changed their spending habits from the year prior. Two in three Canadians said they have some confidence or a lot of confidence in Canada’s economy.


November has only just begun, but Kuzmic said it’s never too early to begin thinking about how to conquer a January financial “hangover.”

“It can be quite common that people want to put their head in the sand,” she said.

Instead, she said debt-plagued Canadians should take small steps toward financial freedom, such as checking their credit card debt. She also underscored the importance of avoiding feelings of “shame,” which only make it more difficult to confront financial reality.

“The first step is just getting yourself up to speed on exactly what your situation is.”