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Jobless Get Creative, Rethink Holiday Gifts
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Jobless Get Creative, Rethink Holiday Gifts

Economy

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It appears that holiday shopping is up this year. Many people are spending more. Many people - not all people. For many unemployed people, shopping means scaling back.

From Sacramento, Kelley Weiss reports.

KELLEY WEISS: Twelve-year-old Lilli Quevedo has a Christmas wish that would make most parents pull out the holiday budget calculator.

Ms. LILLI QUEVEDO: I'm hoping for an Xbox Kinect.

WEISS: But Quevedo's unemployed mom, Guisella Nakatani, of Sacramento, says buying an expensive video game system just doesn't fit into the holiday calculations.

Ms. GUISELLA NAKATANI: Kids are always excited about what they're going to get at Christmas, but they have to understand that right now is a difficult time. So I think she's okay with that.

WEISS: Her husband has a job, but Nakatani says she lost hers at a local school district six months ago. And she is halfway through her unemployment benefits. Today, she's with her daughter, looking for thrifty gifts at a crafts store. Nakatani wants to make a Christmas wreath for her sister.

Ms. NAKATANI: But I think it's the cheapest way. I was looking, actually, at the real prices for already-made wreath. They're very expensive, and I think using some coupons and some sales, I think I will spend less money than buy a new one.

WEISS: After half an hour in the store, Nakatani emerges with a couple of bags, smiling. She spent about $30, and says everything was half off.

Ms. NAKATANI: There's some flowers. These are like, a dollar. And then we got some ribbon and more ornaments.

WEISS: Making gifts is one cost-saving option this year, according to Olivier Rubel. He is a professor of marketing at the University of California-Davis. He says many people without jobs are also changing how and where they spend their money.

Professor OLIVIER RUBEL (Marketing, University of California Davis): They might decide to buy less electronics, for example, less TVs. They might decide to shop at different locations - for example, Wal-Mart instead of Bloomingdale's or Nordstrom.

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

Prof. RUBEL: When you want to buy a good for Christmas, for Hanukah, for whatever you want, it's going to be like, slightly more difficult for you because you don't have access to the money to do it.

WEISS: 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.

Prof. RUBEL: 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 cannot afford the gift that you are expecting to give to your kids. That doesn't make you feel very good about yourself.

Ms. MISTY BOREN: Absolutely, unequivocally, no gifts.

WEISS: That's Misty Boren in Sacramento. She's not getting wrapped up in gift-giving this season. She lost her job in the mortgage industry two years ago, and has been unemployed since. Luckily, her husband still has a job - because her unemployment benefits have run out. Boren says she's using the money she saved for Christmas presents to help pay for her daughter's wedding instead.

Ms. BOREN: Well, it's just - 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's theirs, and it's just ridiculous, you know.

WEISS: And Boren says the tough economy is making her re-think what a meaningful gift might be.

Ms. BOREN: 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? You know, I would love for somebody to come over and do that for me - love it.

WEISS: Holiday sales projections for the entire market are up about two percent from last year. But that spending bump is unlikely to come from the unemployed.

For NPR News, I'm Kelley Weiss in Sacramento.

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