Bah humbug! Market booming, tax cuts coming, but rich won't spend more on gifts

Key Points
  • A majority of rich Americans don't plan to spend more this year than they did last year on holiday gifts.
  • Those who do plan to spend more tend to be younger.
  • Political affiliation does not seem to play a role, even though Republicans are more confident about the economy and stock market.

During the holiday spending season, let's take a moment to be selfish.

Forget who you have on your list this year, and instead ask, Whose holiday gift list is it best to be on yourself? Someone rich, of course, but not all of America's wealthy spend more just because they have the means. In fact, although the stock market is booming and tax cuts are coming, a majority of America's rich told the CNBC Millionaire Survey they plan to spend no more this year than they did last year.

Shoppers walk past the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York.
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Only 16 percent plan to spend more this year, while 72 percent of those with $1 million or more in investable assets said they will spend the same amount — 12 percent will spend less.

Even the wealthiest within the CNBC Millionaire Survey aren't really opening up their wallets, with the percentage of the wealthy with $5 million or more in investable assets planning to spend the same as those with $1 million to $5 million in assets — 16 percent.

The rich look stingy compared to the rest of Americans

The recent CNBC All-America Economic Survey of the general population found that Americans do plan to spend more this year — for the first time in the 12-year history of the survey, spending intentions topped $900, eclipsing last year's estimate of $702. And 29 percent of Americans said they plan to spend more than $1,000, up from 24 percent in 2016. The CNBC All-American Economic Survey also showed the highest level of economic confidence from the broader public since the survey began.

Among the CNBC Millionaire Survey respondents, the least likely of all to spend more: those still in the working population. Only 12 percent of the wealthy who are still working said they would spend more, compared to 18 percent of the retired and 17 percent of the semi-retired. And 16 percent of working millionaires said they would spend less, which was higher than for the semi-retired or retired. Only 9 percent of the retired said they plan to spend less.

Age makes a difference 

Wealthy Americans age 55 and under are most likely to spend more this year — 30 percent. Millionaires over 70 are the most likely to spend the same amount — 78 percent.

Don't expect more lavish gifts from rich Republicans 

When wealthy are asked about their views on the economy and the stock market, historically there has been a big divide based on which party is in power in Washington. Indeed, the Fall 2017 CNBC Millionaire Survey showed Republicans to be much more bullish than Democrats. But when it comes to the holidays, political views don't result in spending largesse.

Seventeen percent of Republicans taking the CNBC Millionaire Survey said they plan to spend more this year than they did last year — and that was highest among party affiliation — but within the survey's margin of error when compared to Democrats who said they would spend more (15 percent) and Independents (16 percent). All three political parties were within a percentage point on spending the same as last year — Republican (72 percent), Democrat (72 percent) and Independent (73 percent).

Millionaires growing skeptical about stock market: CNBC survey

Among the general population in the CNBC All-American Economic Survey, politics do matter, as Republicans typically spend more and said they are much more likely to spend more this year.

So for those wondering how good their gift haul from the rich will be this holiday season, the best answer is that the more younger, retired gift buyers you have in your network of family and friends, the more likely you are to be pleasantly surprised as the unwrapping begins.

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