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Canadians plan to spend less, hit shops later this holiday

Jennifer Kwan

Are Canadians starting to take to heart the constant warnings about soaring household debt? Maybe so if you look to one poll that suggests Canadians plan to slash their holiday spending expenses this year.

Canadians plan to spend $822 on holiday expenses overall, down 20 per cent from $1,021 last year, and at their lowest level since 2008, according to Scotiabank. On gifts, Canadians are expected to spend $578, down 16 per cent from the $685 they spent in 2011.

The bank's holiday shopping poll released on Tuesday also shows more Canadians are last-minute shopping, with 42 per cent of consumers doing their gift-buying in December, from 34 per cent in 2011. About one per cent are planning on leaving their shopping to the last two days before Christmas.

But even though there's a chunk of Canadians that haven't yet done their holiday shopping, most are organized enough to have mapped out their expenses for the season. Sixty-six per cent have planned their expenses ahead and they are reining in their spending.

"This festive season finds Canadians planning to spend less and save more over the holidays", says Aron Gampel, deputy chief economist at Scotiabank. "Although the Canadian economy and job market have been quite resilient, many households appear to be focused on managing their larger debt burdens, a prudent plan in an increasingly uncertain global environment."

The poll, conducted using Harris/Decima's online panel that collected 1,009 completed surveys across Canada between Nov. 16 and Nov. 27, comes as Canadian households continue to pile on more debt, albeit at a slower pace.

Official statistics last week showed Canadian households added to their debt load in the third quarter, pushing the debt-to-income ratio to a record high of 164.6 per cent. That figure is up from 163.3 per cent in the previous quarter.

But beware the strong temptation to buy something for yourself.

A recent poll published by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce shows among Canadians who have started their holiday shopping, nearly one-half say they have made some unplanned purchases for themselves along the way. On average, that adds $134 to their holiday expenses, on top of the $398 on overall holiday expenses so far.

CIBC also found Canadians intend on cutting back holiday spending this year by roughly 8 percent.

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