Who says it's better to give than to receive? Americans can be a generous bunch, particularly at the holidays, but we may be as generous with ourselves as we are with others.
Americans are planning to spend an average of $1,004 for gifts this holiday season, up from $976 in 2003, according to the American Research Group Inc., a Manchester, N.H.-based polling firm. But how much of that will consumers spend stuffing their own stocking?
A random, and decidedly unscientific, sampling of New Yorkers suggests shoppers will receive as much from themselves as they give to others.
"I end up going for other people, but buying for myself. I should go to stores that I don't like," said New Yorker Andrew Zimmerman, who was rifling through the CD racks at a Tower Records store.
The best Christmas gift he's ever bought himself? The Ray Charles box set. That was probably a bit pricier than the best gift he says he's received from someone else -- a pair of flannel pajamas.
Julia Weiner kicked off her Christmas shopping this year with a $300 pair of Cole Haan boots -- for herself. A bit stressed by the hefty price tag, she didn't want to spend any more money that day. "I'm heading to Macy's tomorrow, and I'm determined not to buy anything for myself."
Rather than splurge on a single item, and then shop for others on her list, Regina Jacina of Forest Hills, N.Y., takes a one-for-you-one-for-me approach. "Yesterday was the epitome," Jacina said. "I went shopping for all of my dear friends. For every gift I bought for one of them, I bought one for me. Literally, I did that."
Considering a lovely gray turtleneck sweater at J. Crew for herself, she said she's spent approximately $500 on herself -- so far.
Most shoppers who spoke with ABC News said they were feeling a bit cash-strapped this year, and were looking for bargains. That jibes with the ARG survey. Some 65 percent of shoppers said they will wait for sales before making gift purchases, up from 61 percent in 2003.
Diane Bishop of Brooklyn said she's looking for last-minute shopping deals too. "You tend to look for bargains for other people, but you don't care as much about price when you buy for yourself."
For Michelle Joseph of Brooklyn there's some sense in that strategy. It never feels good to give a gift that isn't appreciated. "You spend $50 on a gift for someone else and they just push it in the corner," she said.
Joseph said she's noticed a difference about the holidays and gift-giving over the years. "Before you wanted to please others, now it's more about pleasing yourself," she said.
Jacina, too, lamented the harried pace, the stress and the increasingly retail-driven spirit of the season. "It shouldn't be as commercial as it is. To counteract the stress, you buy yourself something to make yourself feel better," she said.
Maybe a bit of self-Santa-ing is a good thing. After all, that cozy sweater or a cool pair of boots is a gift to the economy as much as it is to you. Retailers depend on the holiday rush for nearly a quarter of their annual revenues. So far this year, Americans are falling short. Retail researcher ShopperTrak said sales fell 7 percent to $6.7 billion on the last Saturday before Christmas, compared with a year ago.
If you need to treat yourself before you shell out $200 for that mini iPod your brother wants, so be it.
Jacina summed it up nicely: "I feel like we have to make spreading the joy the important thing. But you have to feel the joy yourself before you can give it."