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Holiday shoppers cut back as mortgage rates rise

Spending this season is expected to fall 17 per cent from 2021, according to Deloitte
Over a third of consumers are planning to shop earlier this year in the hopes of saving on holiday purchases | Photo: Rob Kruyt

Consumers are expected to cut back on holiday spending this year as many Canadians feel the pinch from inflation, higher interest rates and larger mortgage payments. 

Canadians’ overall holiday spending is expected to fall 17 per cent this year, to an average of $1,520, according to Deloitte’s 2022 Holiday Retail Outlook. Roughly 41 per cent of consumers plan to spend money only on family necessities, up from 35 per cent last holiday season. 

According to Marty Weintraub, national retail leader with Deloitte, the outcome for retailers could be worse. 

“We did our study in the beginning of September and things have escalated in terms of financial glutinous[ness] since then,” he said. 

Of those who plan to spend less this coming holiday season, 60 per cent cite economic concerns as their reason for cutting down on spending, according to Deloitte.

“The Bank of Canada’s dramatic inflation-fighting increase in interest rates is leading to a housing correction, which in turn is reducing consumers’ purchases of big-ticket items such as furniture and appliances,” said Deloitte chief economist Craig Alexander in the report. 

Half of British Columbians with mortgages say rising mortgage rates will have an impact on their holiday spending this year, according to an October 2022 survey from Coast Capital Savings and the Angus Reid Forum. 

British Columbians are already changing their spending habits in light of the rising cost of living, said Coast Capital. Two-thirds have cut back on discretionary spending, and nearly half have delayed making a major purchase, according to survey results. 

Those with fixed-rate mortgages are less likely to be experiencing financial hardship than those on variable or adjustable-rate mortgages, said Eitan Pinsky, mortgage expert and owner of Pinsky Mortgages. 

“I think that most people who have variable-rate mortgages are looking at their budgets and they’re saying, ‘Okay, what can we stop spending as much money on?’” 

Dustan Woodhouse, president at Mortgage Architects, said that very few homeowners with adjustable-rate mortgages are not feeling pain from rising interest rates.

“The reality is that if you’re in an adjustable-rate mortgage, your payment has increased approximately 70 per cent at this point,” he said. “The adjustable rate people have been the frogs in the pot where the temperature has been cranked up the whole way this year, since March. The variable-rate people haven’t been in the pot, they are the frogs sitting over on the counter, they’re gonna get dropped in the pot, in some cases, at different points in the year over the next 12 months, starting very, very soon.” 

The biggest drops in the types of items purchased this holiday season will be seen in non-gift electronics (down 55 per cent), travel (down 33 per cent) and non-gift clothing (down 27 per cent), according to Deloitte’s retail report. 

One in three consumers, 37 per cent, are planning to shop earlier this year; 46 per cent of them say they believe it will help them get better deals. 

At the same time, consumers with fixed-rate mortgages may be more likely to spend more this upcoming season, said Tim Silk, associate professor in marketing and behavioural science at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business. 

“They might be in a position saying, ‘I’m not incurring these increases and aren’t I smart,’ and that could be justification for going out and spending more. So you get this counterintuitive boomerang effect. You get the opposite behaviour,” he said. “But if you’ve got people that are in the process of refinancing now, or anyone who’s gone on a variable, they’re gonna be feeling it.” 

Another consideration is that savings have accumulated for many Canadians during the pandemic, and that some have seen their wages increase in the past two years, according to the Deloitte retail outlook. 

“Savings accumulated during the pandemic may act as a buffer to inflation, as Canadians saved more than $360 billion over two years,” Alexander said in the report. 

But according to Woodhouse, the ability for individuals to save has been wiped out by increasing mortgage payments. If the Bank of Canada raises its overnight another 50 basis points on Dec. 7, Woodhouse said some Canadians will be paying an interest rate of 5.25 per cent. 

“The No. 1 thing for people to keep in mind is this is going to be a difficult stretch, it’s probably going to last 12 to 18 months, but it is not going to last forever. 2023 is not going to be easier, but we’re just going to have to grit our teeth and get through it.” ■