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How inflation may impact your holiday spending

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Now that it's Thanksgiving, we are well into the holiday season. But how does the current economic uncertainty impact our spending? I spoke earlier with Washington Post personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary for some tips and advice.

MICHELLE SINGLETARY: The thing is, especially when the holiday comes upon us and they get in the store - and a lot of those budget lists that they have kind of go out the door because they want to be generous. And so sometimes they overspend. We know that right after the first of the year, people have lots of regrets about how much they charge and how much debt they went into. I think what is going to be different about this season, whereas people might wait to buy things to see if there are going to be more discounts - because they know that there's a supply chain issue, they're going to be grabbing things as they see them. And that is smart because you don't know if that item is going to still be there as it gets closer to Christmas. And so even as my husband and I shop, we see something - like, we just bought a big tree - you know, artificial tree. And I said, baby, we better grab this now because we're not sure it's going to be here in a couple of weeks if we try to wait for it to be marked down.

MARTÍNEZ: It's almost like a way to save money.

SINGLETARY: That's just a great point because you don't know. It could go down, or it actually could go up. And remember, on the other side of that profability (ph) are workers. And so even as we hunt for deep discounts, you know, just keep in mind that the deeper the discount, it could impact those people who are ringing your purchases up or stocking those shelves. If it's a fair price, I'm OK to get it now, even if I think if I wait, I could get it cheaper.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, do you have any recommendations where people can score a deal? Because I think that's what a lot of people are waiting for, just that one great deal on something they've really, really wanted for a while.

SINGLETARY: Yeah, I tell people do both - in a brick and mortar and online. And so I will - you know, around the holiday times, I create a list. Now, my list starts with budget. How much can you afford to spend without going into debt? Don't start with listing the number of people you have to buy for 'cause that's how you overspend. So if your budget is $500, you start with that. And then you go online, you go in the store and you sort of look and see where you can get the best deals. Because during the pandemic, we sort of all could get more things online, and we assumed it was cheaper. But that's not necessarily true anymore.

MARTÍNEZ: Michelle, I've been so proud of myself. I've been trying my best to hold off on buying sneakers until December. My resolve is weakening.

SINGLETARY: (Laughter).

MARTÍNEZ: I got to tell you that right now. But I thought - you know, I thought it was a good thing that I was holding off.

SINGLETARY: Well, I mean, you could take the risk. So if it's an item that you don't have to have and it's a fun item or it's not a necessity, sure. Go ahead and wait. But if it's something that's your heart's desire and it may be in limited supply, I wouldn't wait. But if it isn't, you know, go ahead and do that dance that we all do with discounts by waiting. That's OK, too.

MARTÍNEZ: How is this current economic situation in the country, especially high inflation - how is that affecting holiday spending this year?

SINGLETARY: Well, I think lots of people are going to be looking for bargains, even more than they have in the past, because their own income is being pressed by higher prices and necessities like food and gas.

MARTÍNEZ: Michelle, you know the American consumer. Are they looking for bargains as a way to limit themselves from spending, or are they just going to find something to buy no matter what, bargain or no bargain?

SINGLETARY: I think there's going to be two types of consumers. There's those who've done well during the recession. And I know that sounds crazy, but they have. Their - you know, they saw increases in their stock portfolios. And then there are those who were - definitely been pressed by the economy, and they still want to shop. They still want to give, but they're very concerned about how much they spend.

MARTÍNEZ: Michelle Singletary is The Washington Post's personal finance columnist. Michelle, thank you.

SINGLETARY: You're so welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.