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With inflation looming, Americans are shopping smart this holiday season

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

Thanksgiving is now safely in the rearview mirror, and we're accelerating into the holiday shopping season. This week, an estimated 166 million people - and yes, that's half of the U.S. population - all these folks will be shopping. That's according to the National Retail Federation. Businesses welcomed this news, but there is a potential bump in the road, and that's inflation, of course. It's revving concerns about how much consumers will actually spend. So how are Americans feeling right now? Well, we headed out to a big box store in Landover Hills, Md., to find out.

GAITREE MANARAM: I just got off from the night shift, and I see the deal, and I grab it right away.

FOLKENFLIK: Gaitree Manaram stands about 4 1/2 feet tall. She happily balances an ultra-HD television in her cart. It's a 50-inch screen, and the box is bigger than she is.

MANARAM: It's good deal.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Excuse me. I'm sorry. Where'd you get the TV?

MANARAM: Go on the walkway like this.

FOLKENFLIK: Veronica Funto has filled her cart.

VERONICA FUNTO: I have a few towels, a personal chiller, a mini fridge, a vacuum cleaner, a Ninja blender. I have saved some. But, of course, if you want it, you get it. It's the season of shop, so I'm just in the feel of things.

FOLKENFLIK: But not everyone found themselves in the spirit. A 23-year-old who goes by the name Vonnie Shadonnie milled around with a friend, and he said he was keeping his wallet closed.

VONNIE SHADONNIE: So this is, like, my first time doing Black Friday. The prices not, like, looking like how it used to, like, back in the day, like, oh, cute $60 for some electronics. Oh, it's giving, like, 140, 160, 120, 1-this. And then they got the little sneaky, hidden fees.

FOLKENFLIK: Christina Poe wanted to get gifts for her grandchild. She also said she was experiencing some sticker shock.

CHRISTINA POE: We're looking to buy a TV, but we thought the prices would be a little lower than this. I expected the 55 inches to be at least 200, not - this is 278. I don't have that much money to spend. That money comes from my Social Security check, you know, and that's only 800. And I got to pay my bills, too, so it's going to be hard this Christmas.

FOLKENFLIK: Bargain hunting seems to be playing a bigger role this year, as far as where and how people are shopping.

SHANNON CARR: If the economy was different, I would be given more.

FOLKENFLIK: That's Shannon Carr of Cincinnati.

CARR: Property taxes are going up, gas and electric bills - the water bills are ridiculous. Basic month-to-month bills are a lot higher, and it is sucking up a lot of money.

FOLKENFLIK: We heard from Shannon earlier this year about rising prices at the Dollar Store, one of her favorite places. She doesn't mind talking about her spending, so we asked her to share how this economy is affecting the way she's planning for the holidays.

CARR: I feel like I'm ahead of the game as far as gift buying and shopping and things like that. I tend to start right after the holidays. I love Black Friday. And also, December the 26 is a very good day to shop. Like last year, I knew that I wanted a whole bunch of Christmas wreaths, so I got them off the clearance rack last year to use for this year. So I have a whole bunch of Christmas wreaths.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CARR: And ways that I am thrifty is - I look at sales, and if toilet paper is on sale, oh, this week, I'm getting toilet paper. If soap is on sale this week, stock up on soap. I always look at that clearance rack and see what they have there. I love the thrift stores. I have no issue with going to the thrift store and buying a gift for someone because my gift is going to be unique, first of all. So if you want a gift from me, 9 out of 10, it may come from the thrift store. And that's one of the ways that I like to save. I use coupons. I use the store apps that has coupons on that. I don't go to the store without putting my coupon information in the system because we've got to save. Why pay full price when you can get a discount?

EDWINA LUCERO: We're living paycheck to paycheck, so we make enough to pay our basic needs that we need to have and a little bit extra.

FOLKENFLIK: That's Edwina Lucero. She works for Denver Public Schools as a music instructional curriculum specialist.

LUCERO: This year, for our family, the economy has honestly not felt that much different. I mean, we are both educators. I mean, our entire adult lives we've lived on educator salaries, so there hasn't ever been a point where we've felt not kind of pinched in our purses.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUCERO: Some of the toys that our girls want - the 4-year-old is obsessed with bunk beds right now, so she's very excited about the idea of having a bunk bed arrive from Santa and having her little sister move into her room. She's super into Barbie and "Frozen" and Minnie Mouse. I'm not ready to yet face that there could be an issue buying all the things that we want to buy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUCERO: We've never really done Black Friday, and I've actually gotten super into Cyber Week in the past several years since that's become a thing. What I love about shopping online - and I think there are more brick-and-mortars doing this, but the, like, payment plan option - the payment plan is essentially cash, but it's just spread out. It's like layaway. We may not have the cash right now to buy everybody's presents, but we actually can buy a bunch more because we can spread the payments out over, like, two months. So it's not quite the big hit on our wallet at the same time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUCERO: We're both - my husband and I are trying to not create, like, materialistic monsters at the same time. I think last year, we realized we had kind of gone a little bit overboard with the small toys and just kind of the things that, frankly, end up kind of being junk a couple of weeks later because kids' tastes change so quickly, and they get bored with things. We tried in the past with our older boys, and it kind of worked - something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read, I think is, like, a little thing that people do. And I think we might try to move towards that with our girls as they get older. That's kind of the balance we're trying to strike - is giving them this happy, magical, wonderful time but also realizing that that's not everything and maybe moving the focus away from the gifts to, like, celebrating with family.

FOLKENFLIK: Again, that's Edwina Lucero. She's one of several Americans telling us how they're approaching holiday shopping this year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.