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Economy Won’t Affect Holiday Gift Spending

Most shoppers plan to dish out same amount as last year with boomers leading the charge to malls

Despite high unemployment and dwindling savings, a majority of older adults say they’re not planning to cut back on holiday gift spending this year, according to an AARP Bulletin poll.

Some 57 percent of 1,046 people polled—all age 50 and older—say they plan to shell out the same amount of money as last year on holiday presents. But the sour economy has apparently affected the purchasing power of more than one-third (34 percent); they plan to spend less money than last year.

Only 5 percent of the respondents say they plan to spend more on gifts this year than in 2008. And 11 percent say they don’t buy holiday presents at all, according to the survey, which was conducted Sept. 23 through Oct. 4.

Perhaps not surprisingly, boomers are planning to spend more lavishly on seasonal gifts than older adults. About 48 percent of people age 50 to 64 plan to spend more than $300; 43 percent say they’ll spend less.

Of those 65-plus, nearly half (45 percent) say they’ll spend less than $300 and only one-third plan to spend more. Retiree Gregory Fowler, 81, of Saugerties, N.Y., is among the more generous. He’ll spend about $1,300 this year on gifts for his 10 grandchildren and four children.

“We shop every week and buy gifts all year long,” says Fowler, who retired from IBM in 1990. “We don’t wait till the season. It’s easier, and we get as good a deal as ever because we shop while the stores have sales.”

Of those who plan to cut back on spending to save money this year, 49 percent say they will buy fewer gifts. Nearly 25 percent say they’ll buy only items on sale and 18 percent say they’ll do more comparison shopping in order to spend less, the poll says. One in eight plans to make homemade gifts, and one in 10 will use coupons to reduce shopping expenses.

Almost half (48 percent) of those spending less on gifts say they’ll pay bills with the money they save. Some 15 percent are thinking about the future—they’ll save that money for retirement. Thirteen percent plan to pay down debt, and 10 percent say they’ll put the extra money in an emergency fund.

Malls and stores were cited as the favorite places to shop for gifts by most respondents (69 percent). Only 8 percent say they’ll purchase gifts online or through catalogs.

Most people seem to want to avoid racking up debt this holiday season. More than three-quarters (78 percent) say they plan to buy their gifts with cash, check or a debit card. Twenty percent say they’ll use a credit card for purchases, and 4 percent say they’ll use a layaway plan.

Fowler, who lives on Social Security and his pension income, says he always pays cash for holiday gifts.

“That’s the way I’ve always been, since the 1950s,” he says. “We don’t have any credit card debt.”

Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.


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