Gift-givers Get Creative In Tough U.S.
November 29, 2008
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Annette Harris is a
self-proclaimed "shopaholic." But after years of giving
lavish gifts, she is cutting back since she has been
unemployed for more than a year and depleted much of her
Americans are taking a closer look at their spending
habits this holiday season as the country is mired in
its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
"I'm a shopaholic, so it's very difficult. This will
probably be the worst time of year for me," said Harris,
who used to shop at Saks, Neiman Marcus and Macy's to
satisfy cravings for items such as Jimmy Choo shoes.
To keep her spirits up while she looks for a job, Harris
has been researching her family genealogy. She is
thinking about giving copies of the family tree as
Christmas presents this year or may distribute a 10-page
poem she began writing on Nov. 4, when Barack Obama was
elected U.S. president.
Even those who have not felt the pinch as much as Harris
say they are taking a more altruistic approach to the
holidays, finding other ways to show their appreciation
to loved ones or contributing to less-fortunate
Theresa Ogden said she would donate more toys and
clothing to charities this year.
"I am very fortunate," Ogden said as she walked out of a
J.C. Penney store in Racine, Wisconsin. "I'm pitching in
to do a bit more in terms of donating to others. I've
heard too many bad stories about other people."
Shoppers are still expected to come out and spend, but
with more caution. The National Retail Federation
expects U.S. holiday sales to increase 2.2 percent to
$470.4 billion this year, although consumers spooked by
the economic crisis bought sparingly at the start of the
holiday shopping season.
Jamal Bullock, an engineer for Lockheed Martin, is
nervous about the economy and wants to give different
types of gifts this year, like making a collage, having
a family dinner or letting someone use his time-share
property for a week.
"I want to give more thoughtful gifts than gaudy, pricey
gifts," Bullock, 30, said while shopping at a Target
store in Maryland Friday.
STORES COURT MORE DONATIONS
Retailers are getting in on the giving trend too.
Borders asked shoppers in its stores if they would like
to buy a book for the Toys for Tots charity, while
athletic shoe retailer Finish Line sought donations for
a charitable foundation.
Shoppers at a Sears store on Chicago's State Street
Saturday could get a cup of hot chocolate if they
donated a dollar or more to Heroes at Home, which gives
Sears gift cards to military families.
The Salvation Army's red kettles were once again outside
several thousand stores, with workers ringing bells to
attract shoppers to give spare change for food and toys.
The Salvation Army raised more than $118 million during
last year's campaign, when U.S. holiday sales totaled
nearly $470 billion, according to the National Retail
Harris, 54, who was laid off from her job as an
administrative assistant at an investment company, was
shopping early Saturday, but not for gifts. She needed
boots before a snowstorm expected to hit Chicago Sunday.
Harris worries she might be forced into early retirement
since the job search is not going well. She may also
sell some of her shoes to raise money.
Janice Peters, a social worker shopping in Jersey City,
New Jersey, plans to spend about half the $550 to $700
she spent last year. She is looking at making scrapbooks
to give as gifts.
The charitable holiday spirit is also being promoted
online. A group called Redefine Christmas touts donating
to charities rather than buying gifts. GlobalGiving.com
asked shoppers to skip the sales on Black Friday and buy
gift cards that let recipients choose the causes they
want to support.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is asking
toy marketers to stop targeting kids and help parents
avoid embarrassment when they cannot afford to buy much.
Some Americans are just sick of the spending.
"The consumerism of the country is appalling," said
Judith Aplon, 70, of Boulder, Colorado, who was visiting
"We talk about other countries, where they have
religious battles; in India for instance between Hindus
and Muslims," she said. "It's just the same here, except
our religion is 'buy, buy, buy."' (Additional reporting
by Karen Jacobs, Ben Klayman, Nicole Maestri and Aarthi
Sivaraman; Editing by Vicki Allen)
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