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Many say they’ll spend more for holiday gifts

As the economy mends, many say they’ll open wallets for holiday gift giving

At the South Shore Plaza in Braintree, a shopper looked at Macy’s Christmas display. Retailers anticipate greater holiday sales this year.

Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe

At the South Shore Plaza in Braintree, a shopper looked at Macy’s Christmas display. Retailers anticipate greater holiday sales this year.

Boston-area consumers, buoyed by rebounding home values and a healthier job market, plan to spend significantly more on gifts than other US shoppers this holiday season.

A recent survey of 500 local residents by the New York consulting firm Deloitte found shoppers here are planning to spend an average of $465 on holiday gifts — $43 more than last year, and 20 percent more than the national average. Nationwide, shoppers are expected to spend $386, or about $10 less than they did in 2011.

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Though many local shoppers are still price-conscious and looking for deals, they aren’t as bound by tight household budgets as in years past, said Kate Ferrara, who leads Deloitte’s New England retail practice. “The [Boston] consumer is feeling like they’re in a better position going into the holiday,” she said.

That sense of optimism is the result of a local economy that has improved faster than the national economy, Ferrara said. Greater Boston’s unemployment rate was 5.9 percent in September, nearly two points below the the national rate, while the area’s home values rose steadily this summer. When values rise, economists say, homeowners feel wealthier and more likely to spend.

Retailers are optimistic, too. Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said his group is expecting an increase in sales for the third year in a row. Last year, sales increased 5.1 percent — more than double the association’s original projections. This season, with five full shopping weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas, local retailers are expecting at least a 3 to 4 percent increase over 2011.

“We’ve got the best case scenario on the calendar,” Hurst said.

At the South Shore Plaza in Braintree, shoppers were already browsing holiday displays and taking their kids to visit Santa. Kate Waldron, a 51-year-old Braintree resident, said she feels better about spending this holiday season for two reasons: Her husband found a job after two years of unemployment, and business is booming at the cabling and security company where she works.

She reined in her spending over the past two years, but now, with things looking up, she said she’s ready to loosen the purse strings.

“My husband says the ‘F’ word is not in my vocabulary,” she said, “and that would be ‘Frugal.’”

Xenia Montgomery, 41, an operations manager for a local hospital, said that despite her best efforts, she expects, as in past years, to exceed her holiday shopping budget.

“I usually start off around $3,000 but my kids are very expensive,” she said. “I always end up spending a lot of money.”

The National Retail Federation projects that shoppers across the country will beat Deloitte’s estimates, spending an average of nearly $422 on presents during the holiday season. The Washington trade group estimates that overall holiday sales in the United States will increase 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion this year.

Spokeswoman Kathy Grannis said the federation’s forecast is “the most optimistic” one released since the recession, but added that concerns about the economy continue to weigh on consumers. Despite slow improvement in economic conditions, the national unemployment rate remains high and many consumers still see friends and relatives out of work.

“We do expect people to spend just a little bit more than they did last year,” Grannis said, but “overall remaining conservative with their budgets.”

At the South Shore Plaza, Gwenn Kelley, 40, of South Boston. said she might spend a little more than last year, but will try to keep her costs down by shopping sales and urging her family members to participate in a grab bag-style gift-exchange to limit the number of presents each has to buy.

“My boyfriend lost his job in September,” said Kelley, a state employee, “and as much as I may have been feeling a little bit better [about the economy], I’m still well aware that there are people out there who have been losing their jobs.”

Retailers, meanwhile, are gearing up for the start of the holiday shopping season. Macy’s has already begun promoting its Black Friday deals and is rolling out an enhanced mobile app that will guide consumers to holiday specials and help them plan their gift-buying.

“We are feeling confident about our prospects for the upcoming holiday season,” Macy’s chief executive Terry Lundgren said in a statement about the company’s most recent earnings report.

Target is already promoting Christmas trees in its regular sales fliers.

The Minnesota-based retail chain has paired up with Neiman Marcus to offer a holiday gift collection that it hopes will help set it apart from competitors like Walmart.

At South Shore Plaza, Target store manager Don Aldridge said he expects these early promotional efforts to pay off. Traffic at the store is already up.

“We’ve had a great year so far in comparison to last year,” Aldridge said, “and I think that’s going to carry forward into Christmas.”

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth. Laura Finaldi can be reached at laura.finaldi@globe.com.
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