Jobless Get Creative, Rethink Holiday Gifts

Guissella Nakatani of Sacramento, Calif., visits a craft store with her daughter, Lili Quevedo. i i

hide captionGuissella Nakatani of Sacramento, Calif., visits a craft store with her daughter, Lili Quevedo, to find materials to make handmade Christmas gifts. Nakatani lost her job six months ago and is trying to save money this holiday season.

Kelley Weiss for NPR
Guissella Nakatani of Sacramento, Calif., visits a craft store with her daughter, Lili Quevedo.

Guissella Nakatani of Sacramento, Calif., visits a craft store with her daughter, Lili Quevedo, to find materials to make handmade Christmas gifts. Nakatani lost her job six months ago and is trying to save money this holiday season.

Kelley Weiss for NPR

Holiday sales projections are up about 2 percent from last year, but shoppers are still being cautious.

The estimated spending bump is unlikely to come from those out of work — especially from those who have seen their unemployment benefits run out.

Most unemployed people are scaling back on gifts, including Guissella Nakatani of Sacramento, Calif.

Her 12-year-old daughter, Lili Quevedo, has a Christmas wish that would make most parents pull out the holiday-budget calculator: She wants the Kinect for Xbox 360.

Nakatani says buying a costly video game just doesn't fit into the holiday calculations.

"Kids are always excited about what they're going to get [for] Christmas, but they have to understand that right now is a difficult time," Nakatani says. "So, I think she's OK with that."

Dwindling Benefits

Her husband has a job, but Nakatani says she lost her position at a local school district six months ago. And she is halfway through her unemployment benefits.

Nakatani takes her daughter to look for thrifty gifts at a craft store. She wants to make a Christmas wreath for her sister, so she uses some coupons and buys items that are on sale for 50 percent off.

She emerges from the store smiling, with some shopping bags filled with flowers, ribbons and ornaments that she purchased for about $30.

A Holiday Solution: Handmade Gifts

Making gifts is one cost-saving option this year, according to Olivier Rubel, a professor of marketing at the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis.

He says many people without jobs are also changing how and where they spend their money.

"They might decide to buy less electronics — for example, less TVs," he says. "They might decide to shop at different locations — for example, Walmart instead of Bloomingdales or Nordstrom."

Rubel says online bargain shopping is another option. But he says a tight credit market could hamper big-ticket purchases.

"When you want to buy a good for Christmas, for Hanukkah, for whatever you want — it's going to be slightly more difficult for you because you don't have access to the money to do it," he says.

Maxed-Out Credit Cards

Rubel says many people out of work have maxed out their credit cards and can't get new ones to buy presents. And while he says that's not necessarily a bad thing, it can put even more stress on families.

"Let's put it that way: You've been unemployed for six months, and you see the holiday season is coming up, and you see that you can't afford the gift that you are expecting to give to your kids," Rubel says. "That doesn't make you feel very good about yourself."

Misty Boren decided not to get wrapped up in gift-giving this season.

She lost her job in the mortgage industry two years ago and has been unemployed since. Luckily, though her unemployment benefits have run out, her husband still has his job.

Rethinking Gifts

Boren says she is using the money she saved for Christmas presents to help pay for her daughter's wedding instead.

"It's just that people spend a whole bunch of money on junk, and we end up with a jungle full of unwrapped presents — people don't even know which present is theirs and it's just ridiculous," Boren says.

And she says the tough economy is making her rethink what a meaningful gift might be.

"Why not make a gift coupon and say, you know, 'I'll come over to your house and cook you dinner and clean your kitchen for you one night,' " she says. "I would love for somebody to come over and do that for me — love it."

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