Shoppers tighten budgets, wallets

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY -- This holiday season, the economy may be turning last year's Santas into this year's Scrooges as many local shoppers say they are combating the economic decline with fewer presents and tighter spending limits.

Cindy Harris, 51, said she will be spending less this year on presents and non-essentials, such as Christmas decorations.

"I think there is definitely a change in how much we are going to spend this year," she said while shopping at Target with her 2-year-old grandson, Noah.

Harris said most of her gifts this year will be essential items, such as clothing, or inexpensive gifts, such as movies and games. She said she usually buys a few new holiday decorations each year, but won't this year. Harris said she doesn't mind scaling back on Christmas decor.

"I'm using the things we've accumulated over the years," she said. "It is actually kind of nice. You get to see some of things that you may have forgotten about and enjoy the history of it."

Harris' holiday frugality reflects the findings earlier this year of the National Retail Federation. The federation said 65.3 percent of respondents said the economy would impact their holiday plans this year and 84.2 percent of those said they would curtail spending somewhat. The federation said consumers were expected to reduce average spending to $682.74, a drop of 3.3 percent from 2008.

Harris said she participated in Black Friday shopping, but came home with few packages.

"I didn't actually spend anything on Christmas," she said. "I did it more as a fun day of shopping with friends and family. I actually enjoy the crowds."

Again, Harris' actions fit in with what the nation's largest affiliation of retailers found in a Black Friday weekend survey. The Retail Federation said that more people hit the stores the Friday and weekend after Thanksgiving -- 195 million compared to 172 million in 2008 -- but each spent significantly less -- $343.31 this year compared to $372.57 last year. The total estimated spending for the traditional three-day launch of the shopping season was $41.2 billion, the federation said.

Some shoppers said they are shopping online this year. "We are spending a lot less this year, but I do most of it (shopping) online," Nancy Martin, 32, said Friday afternoon while shopping for board games for her daughter, Zoe.

Pvt. 1st Class Josh Mosley, 26, said he avoids the holiday crowds by shopping online as well. "I'd rather shop online than go out," he said. "That way you avoid spending gas and time waiting in lines by shopping in stores."

Mosley said his family will draw names this year for gift-giving.

"We draw names and that person that you get is the person you buy for," he said. "That way you don't feel obligated to buy for everyone. That's one thing we are doing to save money this year."

Jane Turner, 29, said she will be relying on layaway to ensure a merry Christmas at her house.

"It's great," she said of the program. "You can pay a little with each paycheck and you are guaranteed to have it by Christmastime."

Other shoppers were taking advantage of layaway programs available at Kmart and Toys R Us Friday as lines to the layaway departments grew throughout the day.

For some shoppers, timing is everything. Jeff Henshaw, 67, said he will be waiting until two days before Christmas to do his shopping.

"The best sale you are going to find is right before Christmas," he said. "The only problem is that the assortment you are going to get might not be what you wanted."

Henshaw said he will also be relying on gift cards.

"I normally give gift cards to my grandchildren," he said. "That way they can get what they want, when they want it."

If so, Henshaw will buck one national trend. The Retail Federation found that the average spending by consumers on gift cards was likely to drop this year. Their research indicates that the average shopper will spend $139.91 this year on gift cards, compared to $147.33 last year. Recipients will also find the gift cards a little less loaded this year, the federation said, with the average amount on each card dropping from $40.58 last year to $39.80 this season.