Christmas dear

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Christmas dear

We all realise that Christmas is the busiest time of year for retailers, it was therefore interesting Phil Ruthven’s article in the latest edition of the Qantas Magazine that highlighted how the Australian consumer was the big spender. Australians spend more in December than in any other month of the year, but we do keep our debt under control. DECEMBER IS ALWAYS an interesting month – one with many contrasts. The rush at work to get things done by Christmas Eve, knowing most businesses shut down until late January. Despite the onset of the season of goodwill, tempers get short, but it’s generally an anticipatory and happy month for most Australians and the 640,000-plus foreign visitors at this time. Although the festive and holiday periods vary between nations in the Southern and Northern Hemispheres, countries such as the US have similar spending patterns to ours, with November and especially December being significantly higher than other months. The first chart shows overall spending on retail and hospitality in Australia and the US by month in 2006, with the expected total sales for 2007 shown in each case. We can deduce from the higher than average spending in November and December that Australians spend $7.3 billion extra in buying presents for Christmas, or $870 per household. In the US it is an extra $US520 ($575) a household. Of course, averages are just that. One-fifth of Australian homes have only one occupant and less than 43 per cent of homes have children. Nevertheless, allowing for differences in household incomes, Australians spend almost 60 per cent more than Americans on Christmas. Undoubtedly, some of this is on holiday preparation, which for many in Australia coincides with Christmas. In the US, August is the second-biggest month, coinciding with their summer holidays. Department stores, which account for just 7.3 per cent of Australia’s spending on retail and hospitality and 5.6 per cent of the US’s spending in 2006, have a higher dependence on Christmas, as the second chart reveals. Department stores account for 19 per cent of all Christmas spending in Australia and 21 per cent in the US. While the religious significance of Christmas may be fading in many countries, the goodwill element remains, resulting in November and December being the biggest spending months. Yet Australia spends only an extra 3.1 per cent above the monthly average in November and December, and the US just 1.5 per cent. That tells us we value the festive season and, contrary to the prevailing furphy, tend not to go berserk with our credit cards.