Many consumers still watch their budgets this holiday season
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Keeping one eye on the wish list and the other on the money was the guiding strategy for many local consumers navigating the first two days of the holiday shopping season.
Although some shoppers were counting on money saved from bargain hunting to buy more gifts, others were committed to pocketing the difference, whether for a rainy-day fund or to pay the monthly bills.
Most plan to spend only the cash they can afford, swearing off credit cards to avoid the post-holiday hangover.
“I’m getting good deals, so it defeats bargain hunting if all you are going to do is spend the money you save anyway,” said Jackie Ballard of Lexington. She planned to spend about $2,000 on presents, the same as last year.
Ballard said she normally resists Black Friday shopping, but tried it this time around in hopes of buying a Furby doll for a grandchild. Alas, she struck out at Toys R Us.
Ballard said she turned more to online shopping to stretch her budget. “It’s working much better this time around,” she said.
A seasonal Elon University Poll, released Monday, found that a third of 732 North Carolinians surveyed planned to spend less money on gifts than in previous years. Only 20 percent expected to spend more.
Although the proliferation of mobile devices has diminished the initial spark around Cyber Monday – consumers using their employers’ online access to make purchases – the Elon poll found that more consumers were likely to shop online Monday (33 percent) for big bargains than to hit the retail centers Thursday and Friday (26 percent).
Still, “most gifts will be purchased in stores,” said Kenneth Fernandez, director of the Elon Poll. “On average, residents plan to do about 30 percent of their shopping online.”
David King of Pilot Mountain said he plans to spend about $2,000 on gifts, about the same as last year.
His strategy involves saving up over the course of the year. He said he put some purchases on a credit card to get discounts and bonus points, “but I pay the credit cards right off.”
King said his shopping research led him to spend a good amount of his budget before Black Friday. “Many of the things we wanted to buy, they were cheaper before today,” he said.
Although the big marketing push for sales is centered on Black Friday, the International Council of Shopping Centers said retailers should expect fairly steady traffic flow through Christmas Eve.
Its survey found that just 21 percent of consumers expect to complete their holiday shopping between Thursday and Monday. The five-day period also includes Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday campaigns.
The bulk of shoppers said they expect to finish shopping by Dec. 14, while 16 percent said they will wait until Christmas Eve to be done.
Betty and Roger Lancer of Winston-Salem said they expected to save at least 50 percent on all their holiday purchases. “We’ve never set a budget,” Roger Lancer said. “If it looks good with the price, we get it.”
When asked about how the economy is affecting their family, Roger Lancer said, “We feel very fortunate to have jobs with security.”
Teresa Davis and daughter Lauren Caviness, of Galax, Va., take the approach that every dollar saved is another dollar for more presents.
“We’ll probably get $200 to $250 worth of more gifts because of what we’re doing today,” Davis said. “We shop around these stores ahead of the Black Friday sales so we know which items bring real savings.”
Misty Hubbs of Lexington said she’ll spend between $800 and $1,000 on her seven children, about the same as last year.
“We try to save up one to two paychecks for Christmas presents, with technology and clothes the big items,” Hubbs said. “We have to know what we should expect to pay and be willing to walk away if the price is too high.”
The Elon poll found that 40 percent of respondents are limiting their spending because they believe the economy will worsen over the next year, compared with 33 percent who think it will get better.
Brenda Russell of Yadkinville said her family begrudgingly agreed to limit their shopping to immediate family this year to cut down on holiday spending. Instead of buying presents for 10 to 12, she will spend on only six.
“It’s been a tough year, seeing job losses with co-workers, friends and family,” Russell said. “The increase in insurance premiums for next year has certainly gotten our attention.”
Ballard said she was not surprised to see more shoppers carrying fewer packages the past two holiday seasons.
She laughingly called it “the male shopping approach,” in that shoppers are zeroing in on one or two main or big-ticket items and then getting out of the store.
“I’m still worried about the economy because I see too many people still struggling to pay their bills,” Ballard said.
“We’re still not creating enough jobs, and I think the reason the unemployment rate has dropped (8 percent in October for North Carolina) is that people have fallen off the job grid because they can’t find work.”
By Richard Craver/Winston-Salem Journal