The rough economy, ongoing job insecurity and overall consumer caution will be expected to trim gift spending this holiday season.
And that’s the way it should be, experts say, no matter who hopes or suggests that Lawrencians, Kansans and Americans should help the country buy, buy, buy its way out of the financial mire of the Great Recession.
Doug Houston, associate dean of business at Kansas University, said to just enjoy the holiday season for what it is: a chance to enjoy times with family and friends, share a few gifts and be thankful for what you have while keeping in mind what you don’t.
“In most circumstances, caution is necessary,” said Houston, who helped establish a personal finance course at KU, which generally draws 150 students a semester. “Be prudent, and have fun. You’re trying to do something for yourself and those around you. Spending a little at this point makes sense, but don’t go crazy.”
As the largest shopping weekend of the year approaches, Americans appear poised to take Houston’s advice.
With the traditional Black Friday stretching to Cyber Monday and beyond, shoppers plan to spend an average of $704 on holiday gifts and seasonal items this year, according to the National Retail Federation. That would be down 2.1 percent from the $719 projected at this time last year.
Six in 10 holiday shoppers also intend to take advantage of retailers’ sales and discounts to buy things for themselves and families during the season, the federation says: Shoppers plan to spend $130 on discounted apparel, electronics, home goods and other items either for themselves or a family member, up from $112 a year ago.
Shoppers “are meticulously calculating the best ways to stretch their dollar,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the federation, whose survey is considered a reliable gauge of shoppers’ intentions and behavior.
It won’t do anyone much good — especially your family, for starters, but extending to the overall economy — to enter 2012 in even more debt because of a shopping binge, she said.
Even if it’s blunted by major discounts and “free” financing or other incentives.
“It’s the hangover that gets everyone in January,” said Docking, who lives in Wichita and is a former member of the Kansas Board of Regents. “Everyone gets into the fun of Christmas, puts it all on credit cards, and then they have to pay it off in January.”
Even major financial companies urge caution. Among money-management tips for the holidays from Wells Fargo & Co.:
• Make a list of everything you need to buy before going shopping, so you are not tempted to overspend.
• Set an expense budget. “Remember, the people receiving your gifts would not want you spend more than you can afford,” the company says.
• Do not disrupt bill-paying or savings habits to enable holiday spending, as “it’s more important to keep your finances on track.”
Holiday shopping activities — and the financial pressures they produce — are set to ramp up this weekend. A projected 152 million people plan to hit stores in person and online, up 10 percent from a year ago, according to the retail federation.
Houston advises shoppers to take stock of their own personal situations before heading out. Folks with secure jobs, money in the bank and resources on track for retirement or kids’ college educations or other long-term goals — well, they might be relatively free to hit the stores for some impulsive and even occasionally over-the-top purchases.
But that’s certainly not the case for everyone, he said, so think before you spend.
“People are more cautious,” Houston said. “Even with a recovery, we’re having a modest recovery, and a lot of people are very reasonably scared. There’s the unemployment rate: ‘Hey, I could be next.’ That tempers what you should do, and it does temper what they do.”