The festive spending spree may not be all it's cracked up to be, according to the experts. Emma Pinch gauged the mood among Birmingham's shoppers
Mortgage rises, larger fuel bills and the fear of imminent tax increases. It's little surprise that shoppers in Birmingham are tightening the pursestrings this Christmas.
And the allure of great savings to be made by waiting until Boxing Day is another motivator to hold fire in the shops.
According to the Retail FootFall Index (RFI), shopper numbers rose by 4.7 per cent between October and November.
But UK stores saw 7.3 per cent fewer shoppers last month compared with November 2005 – an unusually slow build-up to Christmas which is of "real concern" to retailers, according to RFI, which warned that 2006 could be the worst Christmas for retailers in the last 25 years.
Many high street chains have already started heavy discounting, particularly on winter clothing. But despite a bustling city centre yesterday, people were thinking carefully before splashing the cash.
Insurance worker Joanne Bingham, aged 39, said she simply did not think people had much disposable income to spare at the moment.
"My other half and I went shopping the other weekend in Sutton Coldfield and it was empty," she said. "I just think it's people not being able to afford it because everything is going up, mortgages, taxes.
"We are spending less this Christmas," added Ms Bingham, from Erdington. "We just think it's better to keep the money in the bank for when and if you need it.
"We will probably spend #100-150 on our five-year-old but we are not buying for each other."
Instead, she, her sister, brother-in-law and her partner, Michael, are participating in a 'secret Santa' scheme where each buys one gift for#60.
"My family never spend on each other, just on the kids – it's nicer to get together for a meal."
Rosie Secker, aged 18, a music student at the Conservatoire, said she would be spending more but it wasn't because of a cash windfall or prudent saving.
"My budget is quite low, it will be about #100 in total, exactly the same as last year. I have to see how much I have left over at Christmas after debts and living expenses.
"I haven't bought anything for myself, I'll wait for the sales, but I do like to buy presents because then people don't know how much I've spent on them!"
Security manager Harjinder Singh, aged 38, from Handsworth, said he believed the reason there was more browsing and less spending this year was down to competition.
"The mark-up on some goods, especially electrical, is minute," he said. "You know if you shop around you will find a better bargain or if you wait until January you can get stuff in the sales.
"People go abroad to buy as well. I've just come back from holiday in Canada where you get a lot for your pound at the moment."
He said if he or his wife wanted anything in particular they would wait until the sales.
"We've bought the rings and trinkets for each other – been there, done that. Now we might get something for the house that we need, but with our son at university we'll save our cash."
Chris Germany, aged 27, an IT engineer, has the money to spend on presents but he won't be counted among the weekend throng.
"I'll spend about the same as I always do, between #800-#1,000," said Mr Germany, from Erdington. "I save up throughout the year so I don't have to dip into my wages in December. I never spend all of it – I always have some left over to spend in the New Year."
He said that he avoided the weekend Christmas shopping crowds by doing all his present buying at work lunch-times.
"I think people are fed up with all the advertising that starts in November," he added. "The commercialism is overwhelming."
A-level student Stacey Chamberlain, aged 19, from Hodge Hill, said she would be spending more this year thanks to her credit card.
"I'll spend about #400 this year, whereas usually I'll spend about #250-#300. I've just had a new credit card sent to me and it will all go on that.
"My mum has been saying she is thinking about giving us money this year instead of presents, because the sales start on Boxing Day. I said, no, but only because I'm working. They should put the sales back to January, so they don't start encroaching on Christmas."
* How much will you be spending this Christmas? Will you be waiting for the sales to start? Let us know at the messageboards.