BY GINA G. SCALA
Even as the most densely populated coastal communities along the Eastern seaboard deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the countdown to Christmas has begun. It seems to start earlier each year as retailers decorate stores before Halloween has come and slowly the airwaves are abuzz with toys for children; jewelry for women and cars for men.
And this year, the countdown has 45 percent of Americans wishing they could skip the holiday season because of the financial pressure, according to a new Think Finance poll. The survey also found these pollsters’ stress from holiday expenses is high or extremely high.
About 45 percent of those asked said they don’t expect to have enough money to cover holiday costs this year and 85 percent said they will spend the same amount on gifts this year or less, according to the poll. Only about a quarter of those polled said they planned to spend up to $1,000 on gifts, while 54 percent said the plan to spend $500 or less.
"The economy has shown gradual improvement in recent years, but everyday Americans are still working hard to cover expenses making holiday spending particularly stressful," Ken Rees, CEO of Finance, said in a statement accompanying the release of the poll.
The survey found 41 percent of pollsters said they would use store layaway programs; 50 percent of those individuals earn $75,000 to $99,999 and 32 percent of those earning more than $100,000 have used the layaway program.
"The fact that people across income levels are turning to layaway makes it clear that we need more financial options,” Rees said. Nearly two-thirds or 68 percent of those polled agree.
With 41 percent of respondents saying they could survive without a paycheck for just two weeks and another 25 percent saying they could get by for a month, is it any wonder the holidays are stressful.
“Many of us feel financial stress around the holidays, but for those who are already struggling, this can be a particularly difficult time of year,” Rees said.
Think Finance is a provider of payday loans and other financial services for consumers with limited or no access to banking services. Recently, it surveyed 1,000 Americans across all income levels that use various forms of alternative financial services — including payday loans, prepaid debit cards and direct deposit advances.