Local Christmas shopping critical to economy

T-minus eight days. Time is running out, and as Christmas Day approaches, the pressure to spend spikes.

Published reports indicate that consumers are confident this year, and forecasters say that may trigger a seasonal sales increase of 4.5 percent for retailers. In fact, experts predict shoppers will shell out a whopping $1 trillion for the first time in the history of U.S. business.

Unquestionably, that’s wonderful for business and the economy, but here are my questions. How much of that will be done in local stores? And how much of that spending will be done with plastic, possibly throwing families further into debt?

According to the 2017 Consumer Holiday Spending Report by NerdWallet — a personal finance website dedicated to helping Americans make and manage their financial decisions — each adult American buying gifts will spend about $660 on average this holiday season.

NerdWallet notes that holiday-induced debt is a growing problem. Most of the survey-takers said they planned to spend about the same amount as last year, but still 24 percent of shoppers say they overspent in 2016, while 27 percent admitted to not making a budget at all.

Credit card spending, of course, contributes to this overspending, and from where I sit, the growing popularity of online shopping which comes largely with the use of plastic can only exacerbate the problem and increase the risk of growing household debt.

If NerdWallet’s spending prediction were to hold true for a family like mine, with two adult parents and two sons, ages 20 and 15, we would unload just shy of $2,000 on gifts this year. That may be a little high for my household, but for certain, we have done our fair share to keep the local economy humming along this month.

Thankfully, I’m just about finished with my shopping, and the vast majority of it was done at retailers in Trumbull and Mahoning counties. I always make a conscious effort to shop in town for a few reasons. Certainly, it provides me the enjoyment of holding up the products to check sizes, materials, colors and styles with my own eyes — and without glazing over in front of a computer screen. I also like to smell the scents of new colognes, smell (and taste) fancy chocolates or the aroma of designer coffees before I make a purchase. (And I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t also make time to take a break and indulge while I’m out.)

Shopping in person also allows me the opportunity to plunk down cash — not just credit — when I make a purchase. That’s something that usually is missing when shopping online.

Increasingly each year I hear folks talking about how much shopping they’re doing online. They boast about how much time they save. But, unless that purchase is being done via the website of a local retailer, at what cost is that time savings? Think of the small businesses, an integral part of our society, owned by our neighbors and counting on us for their success. And think of the need for retailers in Eastwood Mall or in local plazas. If we all shopped online, how long would these shops would exist?

The craziness of the crowds, increased traffic and hectic shopping season, to me, really is part of the tradition of Christmas. When I’m checking out at the cash register, I take in the environment and make sure to give a smile and a kind word to the harried cashiers before wishing them a Merry Christmas. They, too, need us to maintain their employment.

Now, you may be thinking that this all sounds way too idealistic. The key, of course, is not waiting until the last minute so you don’t fall into the trap of frantic, last-minute pressure.

Yes, shopping in the Linert household is all good for this season. Now, about that wrapping, and baking, and Christmas cards, and decorating, and ….