What America Is Buying, Spending For Christmas

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Robert Siegel looks into Christmas shopping trends based on what buyers say they are spending. He goes to the Target and interviews a number of shoppers, asking them how much they intend to spend this Christmas. He then speaks with Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup poll, about their yearly poll results on Christmas spending.


The other night we asked Allison Burkett(ph), Scott Sendek(ph), Beth Cutler(ph), Alexander Fontanas(ph), Nathan Jones(ph), Ashley Jordan(ph) and Sevita Row(ph) this pressing seasonal question: How much? And here's what they said.

Unidentified Woman #1: Close to about $600.

Unidentified Man #1: Probably in the neighborhood of 1,200 bucks.

Unidentified Woman #2: Anywhere from 2 to 3,000.

Unidentified Man #2: I spent around 8 to a thousand bucks.

Unidentified Man #3: Probably roughly 500, $600.

Unidentified Woman #3: I think around $750.

Unidentified Woman #4: I would say about $50 per kid.

SIEGEL: How much are they spending on Christmas gifts this year? We went to Target in Alexandria, Virginia, and talked with some folks who were busily picking items off the shelves and checking prices. And we asked them how much they intend to spend all told. The Gallup Poll asks people that question every year, and this year the answers were about the same as last year. In November, the average amount people said they planned to spend was $763; ty December, the average was $840. Gallup's editor in chief, Frank Newport, says those rising numbers are typical.

Mr. FRANK NEWPORT (Editor in Chief, Gallup): As Americans get into it, so to speak--that is, they start spending at Thanksgiving and on up to the first week or two of December--they upwardly revise how much they tell us they're going to spend. It's as clear as clockwork. In fact, we were sitting here at Gallup saying that this year we know when we go out in December and ask how much you're going to spend, it's going to be a lot higher than these same people or a sample of the same people told us several weeks ago. And, sure enough, that was the case. So something happens out there. As you start shopping, you end up saying, `Oh, my goodness, I'm spending a lot more than I probably thought I was just a few weeks ago.'

SIEGEL: You think that's what it is? You think it's the rubber having hit the road, people realize they're going to spend more?

Mr. NEWPORT: Yeah, maybe the good news is to look at it in the spirit of the season. Once you get into the wonderful joy that comes from spending for friends and relatives, you realize you want to spend even more and you're happy about it. How's that?

SIEGEL: Well, happy may be an overstatement. A lot of the shoppers we met at Target say they intend to get this annual habit under control.

Ms. JANICE CUBIAK(ph) (Alexandria): My name's Janice Cubiak, and I live in Alexandria. We're trying to kind of scale it down this year. Typically, people have a tendency to go crazy. I think Christmas has become a little too commercialized personally.

Mrs. SARAH MORISOU(ph) (Shopper): We just got married and have a lot of debt to pay off. So we're trying to not overdo it this year.

SIEGEL: Can you tell us your names?

Ms. MORISOU: Sarah and Paul Morisou.

Ms. MICHELE BUNKER (Racine, Wisconsin): My name is Michele Bunker, and I'm from Racine, Wisconsin. Our family's decided to really kind of cut back on how much we spend per person this year. It's more important to be together than to spend a lot of money.

Mr. SCOTT SENDEK (Shopper): It'll be a little less for me this year.

SIEGEL: Why do you think that is?

Mr. SENDEK: I'm making a lot less money this year.

SIEGEL: I'm sorry to hear that, but it makes sense.

Mr. SENDEK: Yes.

SIEGEL: That was Scott Sendek again. This is not news to Frank Newport. It turns out Gallup has been hearing that for years.

Mr. NEWPORT: Once we ask Americans, `Give us the dollar amount you're going to spend,' we follow it up with a question and say, `Is this more or less than you spent last year?' And inevitably, no matter what the dollar amount is, no matter what the average is, more Americans tell us that's less than last year than tell us it's more. So we have this strange kind of perception on the part of the American public that they're trying to hold it down, it looks like to us; that they're telling the interviewers year after year, `We're spending less than we did last year,' although the figures don't end up showing that's the case. We want to think we're going to spend less is what it looks like to us.

SIEGEL: Even in years where you see that people, indeed, were spending more than they had--that on average the Americans were spending more than they were the year before?

Mr. NEWPORT: That's right. When the absolute numbers they told us--let's say in 2000--was quite a bit higher than the number they told us the year before, they still say that's less than the year before. They want to think somehow that they're holding the line on spending. They don't.

SIEGEL: So we're not really talking about what people spend but about what they say they spend. And when it comes to saying, men as opposed to women say, at least, that they are the big spenders.

Mr. NEWPORT: We think maybe that's what we call psychologically a presentation of self variable. They want to come across as big spenders.

SIEGEL: And what Americans say they spend varies by age, too.

Mr. NEWPORT: The individuals who say they're going to spend the least are the oldest. Perhaps they don't have children around and are more likely to be single, but there's a clear age pattern here where in the midyears of, say, 30 to 49, those are the big spenders. Younger people are going to spend less. Sixty-five-pluses spend the least of all.

SIEGEL: Well, what exactly are they spending all this money on?

Unidentified Man #4: It is a model rocket ship for an eight-year-old.

Unidentified Woman #5: It's the V-Tech Play and Learn Fun Fair.

Unidentified Woman #6: It is a Touch and Crawl Friend, and, I guess, it moves around on the floor. It's for children under the age of one.

Unidentified Man #5: My son, he wants a PSP.

SIEGEL: You've gotta pardon my ignorance here.

Unidentified Man #5: It's a handheld PlayStation game. He wants one of those.

Unidentified Man #6: Part of this has to do with a major gift for my wife, which, you know, we don't need talk about at this point.

SIEGEL: We won't give that away on National Public Radio.

Unidentified Man #6: But it's going to be fairly significant.

SIEGEL: There's a big gift coming?

Unidentified Man #6: Yes, sir.

SIEGEL: Is this a surprise?

Unidentified Man #6: I sure hope so.

SIEGEL: Your secret is safe with us.

Unidentified Man #6: There you go.

SIEGEL: We'll take that gentleman's identity to the grave with us if need be. The other shopper we heard from was Laura Forand(ph).

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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