More people getting crafty this Christmas
WEXFORD, Pa. - Spread out on Clare Bello's vinyl-surfaced work table is the evidence of a year-old hobby - and now, the means for this year's Christmas.
The boxes brimming with colorful beads, semiprecious stones, clasps, and string used to be a fun, creative way to keep busy while watching TV and hanging out with family. This year, the jewelry Bello makes will not only be Christmas gifts for women in her family, she also hopes she can sell enough of her handmade crafts to make what she needs to buy gifts for the men and boys.
In the current economic climate many are cutting back on holiday shopping. Gift-buying budgets are smaller, and many people, such as Bello, are planning to make gifts whenever possible.
"Christmas this year has just been really tough and I think it's been tough on everyone," said Bello, 43, who is chief executive of Vertical Claims Management, a medical malpractice claims company. "My husband's an attorney and I'm an executive, and we're still feeling the crunch, significantly."
Nationwide, crowds came out on Black Friday - considered one of the busiest shopping days of the year and a traditional start of the holiday shopping season - and spent about 3 percent more than last year. But analysts predict that will slow down.
Robert Dye, a senior economic analyst with PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh, predicts a 6 percent to 7 percent decline in consumer expenditures for the fourth quarter - the biggest drop since 1980. Shoppers are going to cut back on lavish goods and return to more "traditional values," Dye said.
First, the Bellos, who live in Wexford, an upscale suburb about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, halved their gift-buying budget for their immediate family - Bello, her husband, Sean, 44, and their two children, Michael, 9, and Stephen, 6 - to $500 this Christmas.
Then, they decided the women in the family would get handmade jewelry.
Now, Bello is selling her one-of-a-kind necklaces, bracelets, and earrings to earn the cash for whatever gifts they buy. Anything Bello makes above $500 will go toward buying more beads and beginning what could become a full-fledged business. While wary of investing too much in the current economy, Bello is considering a website and hopes to attend craft shows, creating a third avenue of income in these trying times.
Steve Baumgarten, an equity analyst at PNC Bank, said in addition to making gifts, he expects people to downgrade in their shopping - hitting the dollar stores and Wal-Marts, rather than Macy's and Saks.
"The magnitude in consumers cutting back in their purchases is going to be greater than what we've seen in more recent history, the past 20 years or so," Baumgarten said.
Stephanie Nelson, the Atlanta-area founder of "The Coupon Mom" website, says this is the perfect climate to be creative. For instance, people can make "gifts in a jar" - a simple mason jar with the layered ingredients for a cake or cookies or soup or bath salts - for less than $5, a gift that costs $30 in a store, she said.
An alternative could be buying canned pumpkin discounted after Thanksgiving and making breads or pies for friends and neighbors, Nelson said. Or, filling two-thirds of a jar or mug with glass stones, placing a flower bulb on top and then decorating it with a bow and instructions to water it - a $2 item to make that costs $20 in the store.
"I actually believe that frugality is going to become fashionable," Nelson said. "It's kind of in poor taste to be ostentatious at the moment."