Personal Finance

Millennials buy holiday gifts for themselves. Selfish or savvy?

It may not be exactly the spirit of Christmas, but millennials are spending less on others and more on themselves than ever before. And rightfully so.

"Given their stage of life, fewer have families so they have less people to spend on," said Dan Farmer, a principal in the retail practice of A.T. Kearney, a New York-based consulting firm. "They're also entering the job market and have more disposable income."

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"In many cases the millennials don't have other financial burdens, aside from student debt, because they don't have children yet," said Britt Beemer, chairman and CEO of America's Research Group. They may even still live at home.

But there may be more going on here. Millennials are savvier overall when it comes to comparison shopping, mobile shopping apps and in-store incentives, which means the holiday season is an ideal opportunity to score the items they want for themselves at the best possible prices.

In the weeks ahead, prices will be, on average, 40 percent off compared to 20 percent off the rest of the year, said Brian Hoyt, vice president of communications at coupon-sharing site RetailMeNot.

"It's the best time to shop," he said. "Why would you not take advantage of those savings?"

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This year, retailers are skewing their promotions even more toward tech savvy millennials with email promotions, text alerts and social media incentives. Last week, for example, Amazon offered a 50-inch LED HDTV for just $150, but it was only available through its mobile app.

There are also "bonus benefits" only available during the key winter shopping months, like free shipping or same-day delivery, free gift cards with purchases and free returns. Those types of offers have become the "price of entry" for retailers during the holiday shopping season, said Wendy Liebmann, CEO of WSL Strategic Retail, a New York-based consulting firm.

Combining all of different discounts available, or stacking, has become the best way to maximize value, Hoyt said. It's also an area in which millennials are particularly skilled.

For those ready to stock up, this holiday season is a good time to purchase winter coats, boots, gloves and other accessories, Liebmann said. A warmer autumn has left retailers with an overabundance of cold weather gear. The same goes for winter clothing, which has already been marked down as much as 50 percent at stores like Kohl's.

Shoppers load a television set into their cart at a Walmart store in Secaucus, New Jersey.
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Lesser sought-after but equally worthwhile are the savings available on off-season sporting goods, paper products, cleaning supplies and even pet food, all of which get marked down on or around Black Friday, said Benjamin Glaser, the features editor of shopping site DealNews.

Black Friday remains the best time to stock up on technology, Beemer said, like televisions, tablets and smartphones — a millennial favorite. "Those promotions are like gold," he said.

More than half of all holiday shoppers, or 55.8 percent, plan to take advantage of seasonal sales and discounts to make purchases for themselves over the holidays, spending an average of $131.59, up from $126.37 last year, according to the National Retail Federation's 2015 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions survey.

It's only more so for millennials. Whereas shoppers 35 and older plan to spend $72 on gifts for themselves and $648 on others, 18-to-34-year-olds plan to spend $106 on themselves and $368 on others, according to a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

This holiday season is already shaping up to be highly competitive, with retailers piling on the shopping incentives, including Wal-Mart launching its layaway program two weeks early, Amazon doubling its number of limited-time "lightning deals" and Target expanding its price-match guarantee.