Today's Question: How much will you spend on the holidays this year?

Thursday, November 26, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Black Friday is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. On the day after Thanksgiving, stores kick off the holiday shopping season by opening their doors early and offering deep discounts. But amid a recession and the highest unemployment rate in more than a quarter of a century, 2009 might be the second holiday season in a row that Americans opt to celebrate less expensively.

Industry surveys predict sales this holiday season to be about the same as they were last November and December. The global business advisory firm AlixPartners reported 87 percent of buyers expected to spend the same or less than they did last holiday season. Industry group the International Council of Shopping Centers forecast that total sales will rise between 1 percent and 2 percent, but the National Retail Federation expected sales would fall 1 percent from last year to $437.6 billion. That’s an improvement over the 3.4 percent decline in sales between 2008 and 2007, but a weak remnant of the 10-year-average of 3.4 percent growth in sales during the holidays.

High unemployment rates and stress over income are likely what will perpetuate restrained spending. A survey by the New York based Confidence Board this month said 10 percent of consumers expect a rise in income, down from the 10.7 percent last month who thought they might start earning more money. Currently at 10.2 percent, the country’s unemployment rate is at its highest level since 1983. A survey by CareerBuilder reports that 18 percent of managers plan to hire seasonal workers this year, slightly up from the 17 percent who hired extra holiday help in 2008. But the jobs could be more competitive. The same survey reports that 12 percent of people who have full-time jobs will apply for additional part-time work for some extra cash.

Competition is also steeper for the department and electronic stores that traditionally dominate Black Friday. In attempts to make up for stunted sales, this year the QVC shopping network and auto dealers are joining the Black Friday push. The former is vying for consumers’ dollars with a 28-hour telethon-like marathon and the latter are offering significant discounts. Online shopping is also gaining momentum. The country’s online retail sales are expected to continue their pattern of growth and end the year with a total of $44.7 billion, an 8 percent increase over 2008.

How much will you spend on the holidays this year?

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