To buy children’s gifts, some moms do without

By Stephanie Rosenbloom

New York Times News Service

Come Christmas, McKenna Hunt, a gregarious little girl from Safety Harbor, Fla., will receive the play kitchen and the Elmo doll she wants. But her mother, Kristen Hunt, will go without the designer jeans she covets this season.

For Kristen Hunt and for millions of mothers across America, this holiday season is turning into a time of sacrifice. Weathering the first severe economic downturn of their adult lives, these women are discovering that a practice they once indulged without thinking about it, shopping a bit for themselves at the holidays, has to give way to their children’s wish lists.

"I want her to be able to look back," Hunt declared, "and say, ‘Even though they were tough times, my mom was still able to give me stuff.’ "


In this economy, nearly everyone is forgoing indulgences, and many fathers will no doubt sacrifice this year to put toys under the tree. But figures suggest the burden is falling most heavily on women, particularly mothers.

In September and October, sales of women’s apparel fell precipitously compared with the same months the year before. They were down 18.2 percent in October, for instance, compared with a decrease of 8.3 percent for men’s apparel, according to SpendingPulse, a report by MasterCard Advisors.

And a survey of shoppers’ intentions by the NPD Group, a consulting firm, suggests that such cutbacks may continue through the holiday season. Some 61 percent of mothers said they would shop less for themselves this year, compared with 56 percent of all women and 45 percent of men.

The survey suggested that mothers, more than any other group, would also spend less money overall and postpone big-ticket purchases, like the dishwasher that Hunt wants to buy.

It may be noble sacrifice for women to spend less on themselves to benefit their families. But it is bad news for the retail industry, which relies heavily on sales of women’s apparel.

"As we go into the holiday, it’s not going to be ‘One for my sister and one for me,’ " said Marie Driscoll, an analyst for Standard & Poor’s Equity Research Services. "You might not even get one for your sister so you can buy great gifts for her kids."

Reyne Rice, who studies toy trends for the Toy Industry Association, said mothers do at least 80 percent of the holiday shopping in a family, and in past recessions, they have been the first to do without. They tend not to get a new coat for themselves, Rice said, so they can provide for their children.

What To Read Next
Get Local