FrugalityAmy Selleck is a frugal shopper, and the folks on her nice list are reaping the benefits this year.

Someone is getting a laptop, purchased with free online credits to a daily deals web site. Others will get a basket of toiletries, candles and other nearly free swag from Selleck’s diligent couponing. Then there’s the closet full of toys purchased at the twice-yearly clearance sale at Target.

“It always looks like I spent so much money, and I really didn’t,” the Orlando woman said. “My entire Christmas is pretty much free this year.”

Selleck, a mom and frugal blogger, is an extreme example of what many shoppers are doing this year: Seeking deals and cutting costs.

The National Retail Federation estimates that U.S. shoppers plan to spend an average of $516 on gifts this holiday season, versus $541 a year ago. More than six in 10 people polled said the economy would affect their spending for the holidays, according to a survey released at the start of the shopping season.

About half said they would be shopping for sales more often, while nearly four in 10 said they planned to use coupons more frequently. About 14 percent said they planned to make more gifts for family and friends.

Even so, last week the National Retail Federation raised its forecast for overall U.S. holiday spending to $469.1 billion, an increase of 3.8 percent from last year. Earlier, the organization had predicted yearly growth of 2.8 percent.

It did not release new numbers specifically for gifts, but spokeswoman Kathy Grannis said, “We still believe consumers are sticking to their budgets, but there is a little more wiggle room when it comes to spending on gifts.”

Some shoppers’ holiday spending comes in less conventional places such as pawnshops.

Lawrence Kahlden, chief executive officer of La Familia Pawn and Jewelry, a Florida-based pawnshop chain, said his stores have seen steady traffic since the day before Thanksgiving, when they hosted a “Why Wait Wednesday” sale to beat the Black Friday rush. They are offering daily sales on different categories of merchandise such as PlayStations, musical instruments or car audio equipment.

“A lot of people right now just with the struggling economy, are looking for savings,” Kahlden said. At La Familia stores, he said, “a TV that would sell for $599 in the store would maybe sell for $399.”

With precious metal prices high, shoppers are shying away from jewelry. But electronics are hot, especially Apple products, smartphones and video game systems, Kahlden said.

And Christmas layaway — a trend embraced heavily this year by stores such as Walmart and Kmart — is popular at pawn stores as well, he noted.

“A couple days before Christmas, we just get slammed with people coming in picking up their layaways,” he said.

For Selleck, saving at the holidays is all about thinking ahead: What are you going to buy and how can you plan to get it for less.

That means taking advantage of daily-deals websites to get gifts at deep discounts and stocking up ahead of time when items go on clearance throughout the year. Shoppers can also capitalize on bonus gift card deals during the holidays, as well as cash-back rewards from credit card companies or sites like Ebates.com.

And there’s always the second-hand shop — where close to 12 percent of shoppers plan to get at least some of their holiday items, according to the National Retail Federation.

“Instead of going into Kohl’s and spending $15 on a basket, stop at Goodwill and see if they have one for a buck,” Selleck said.

Source: MCT Information Services