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Tess Vigeland: I’m not sure what we’re all supposed to make of this but we learned this week that retail sales fell for a fifth straight month in November.
We’re just not buying as much stuff, which, frankly, is good. It means we’re being more responsible with our money. But then we’re also told we’re hurting the economy when we don’t spend, especially during the holidays. You can’t win.
Or maybe you can. Sharon McNary tells us about some gift-giving ideas that are good for the wallet and the planet.
Sharon McNary: You could look at your shrinking holiday budget as one more depressing reminder that the economy isn’t what it used to be or you can revamp your spending to be more frugal and less wasteful like Linda Decker, a corporate trainer from the Los Angeles area. She’s reducing what she calls her “gift footprint.”
That means she’s trying to choose gifts that won’t end up as unwanted household clutter. She’s avoiding the malls and the big box chain stores and looking for less obvious places to shop.
On this Sunday morning, she’s looking for gifts at the Montrose Farmers Market north of Los Angeles.
Linda Decker: I love to shop the farmers markets in my area. I love to give my business to those smaller one-of-a-kind companies that may not make it through the current economic climate without the resources that some of the larger companies do.
Linda Decker says one way to reduce your gift footprint is to give things that don’t last.
Decker: The people in my gift-giving circle seem to end up with a lot of stuff at the end of the holidays, and so I’m trying to come up with gift ideas that have a short life span. A consumable.
For example: Food.
Decker: I’ll be making Meyer lemon curd and marmalade for my family in Minnesota.
So today, she’s buying some Meyer lemons.
Decker: I need ones with nice yellow skins for the marmalade.
Lemon vendor: Thank you.
A seemingly opposite strategy is to give old things that last a really long time, like vintage teacups for a friend or a fossil for a nephew. She also buys handmade items from local artists. As someone who recently recovered her financial footing after a layoff, she likes to know who her money is supporting.
Decker: In looking at my year I’ve realized I had to make budget changes. Many of the people in my immediate circle have been affected by layoffs or company closures and so we have all sort of agreed that we’re going to do a lot less this year.
Some of her favorite venders are going through hard times, too. Jewelry maker Michelle Tousignant has a booth at the market.
Michelle Tousignant: Let’s see, about six months ago, we would make anywhere from $500 to $800 just on one Sunday. Now we’re lucky if we even make $100 or even our booth space. We’re pretty much just paying to be out here.
Linda Decker glances at a couple of Tousignant’s pieces but doesn’t buy anything. Thrifty shoppers like her are known as New Simplifiers. That term was coined by Harvard Business school professor John Quelch.
John Quelch: The key thing here is that the simplifier is being motivated by a desire to manage their life in a less complicated way. So it’s more the reduction of complexity rather than the simple act of saving money.
As we reach the last booth of the market, a man gives a boy a few dollars to put in the jazz band’s tip basket. Linda Decker is having second thoughts about one of those items she saw at Tousignant’s jewelry booth and she heads back for another look. Maybe this time she’ll buy something.
I’m Sharon McNary for Marketplace Money.
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