With hard times ahead, people are being cautious in their Christmas shopping this year and retailers are expecting their worst season in a decade and a half. Retail sales dropped 2.7 per cent last month, and polls show that the average American is expecting to spend about $200 less on gifts this year — almost 25 per cent less than last year. Upper income families, who lost the most in the stock market and in real estate value, will cut their spending by almost $400.
All told, that could add up to well over a hundred billion dollars this year, as Americans spent more than $460 billion on Christmas 2007.
An informal poll of Canadian shoppers by the Toronto Star was not as bleak, but then again the recession hasn’t hit Canada as hard — yet.
If people claw back their expenses and give practical gifts, like clothes and sporting equipment, technology companies are expected to fare the worst as items like digital music players and video game consoles are considered to be luxury items.
But there’s no reason not to buy technology gifts this year. In fact, when it comes to getting value for your money there’s really nothing better than technology if you expect to use it every day. You can always stay home and watch the television you bought and if you absolutely need a cell phone — and you should always be honest about need in times like these — there are no shortage of plans and options that suit your usage patterns that come with free or reduced price phones. Sometimes technology is practical.
Video Games and Consoles
Who says you have to buy the latest console? The PS2 is the best-selling console of all time, there are thousands of great games available for $20 or less, and you can pick one up bundled with two games for $149.
The Nintendo DS is great value with two games for $189, and the basic Arcade level Xbox 360 (no hard drive, but memory cards are cheaper than ever), starts at $199. The cheapest PS3 bundle is $399, but that includes a Blu-ray player and free online gaming. The Wii is the cheapest at $269 and probably the most universal in appeal, although you probably want to bundle up and spend more to get extra remotes, Nunchuk controllers, and games.
If you want to save money on games themselves, it pays to look back a few years (look for reduced price “Greatest Hits” titles), or search the previously viewed or bargain bin at your local video store. You can also shop online at Amazon.ca to get good deals, or got to EB Games (www.ebgames.ca) to buy used games that are guaranteed to be scratch-free.
Xbox 360 and PS3 owners can also buy games online for cheap, some of which have gotten amazing reviews. The best Xbox Live games this past year include Castle Crashers, Braid and Rez HD, which each deliver a dozen or more hours of fun and cost anywhere from $5 to $12, while Jewel Quest is amazing value for about $8. The top PSN games like Pixel Junk Monsters, Pain, Wild Arms, and Everyday Shooter are similar in price.
Next generation console owners can also buy downloadable content for their existing games, like three new multiplayer levels for Halo 3 that extend the life of those games for about $5. Two years later, the best overall value is probably still Valve’s Orange Box, which includes three full-length Half-Life Games, Portal and Team Fortress 2.
The best advice I can give if you’re in the market for a new computer now is to wait until January when all the 2008 stock is sold off below cost, in which case gift certificates might be the best way to go. There’s also the operating system angle — Microsoft 7 should be released sometime in 2009 in Beta, and you want to buy a system that comes with it, or at least promises you a free upgrade when it’s available. As well, more details on Apple’s next update, Snow Leopard, should be announced at their annual MacWorld Expo.
If you’re somewhat handy and not afraid to delve into the guts of your computer, you can also save a fortune by buying a cheaper system and upgrading it yourself. An article on Gizmodo (www.gizmodo.com), Why You Should Stop Buying Your Computers Fully Loaded, shows how you can custom build your own desktop and get a better system for $900 less than purchasing a comparable system from Dell.ca.
Computers have long-since stopped being luxury items for most people, but buying the latest and greatest of everything may no longer be practical. If money is tight it makes more sense to upgrade an older computer than to buy a new one.
Many upgrades are the result of meeting minimum system requirements for new software, so think about running older software, playing older games, etc. for a while. If you need to upgrade, you can get more memory, new processors or graphics cards at a fraction of the cost of buying new (try www.tigerdirect.ca first), but always be aware of limiting factors like the number of expansion slots and limitations to your motherboard. Some hardware will not work with other hardware. To find out, do a Google search to find out what the system requirements are for each piece of hardware you’d like to buy.