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Frugal holiday shoppers find ways to save

| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 8:52 p.m.
Becky Maruca turns a wooden bell ornament on a lathe in her Ross home Tuesday, November 27, 2012. Becky will be giving some of her hand-made wooden pieces as holiday gifts. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Becky Maruca of Ross made and painted this Santa and deer wooden figurine for her aunt as a past gift. She will be giving some of her new wooden creations as gifts this holiday season too. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Deborah Lyles, 56, of Homestead shops for Christmas gifts at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in Castle Shannon on Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. U.S. consumers will again be conservative with spending on holiday gifts this year, according to the National Retail Federation. Frugal gift givers are saving money by making gifts, shopping at dollar and thrift stores and providing free services, such as babysitting. Tory N. Parrish I Tribune-Review
Becky Maruca turns a wooden bell ornament on a lathe in her Ross home Tuesday, November 27, 2012. Heidi Murrin PIttsburgh Tribune-Review
Becky Maruca of Ross turns a wooden bell ornament on a lathe Tuesday, November 27, 2012. She will be giving some of her hand-made wooden creations as gifts this holiday season. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Becky Maruca of Ross made these wooden bottle stoppers. She will be giving some of her hand-made creations as gifts this holiday season. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Deborah Lyles, 56, of Homestead shops for Christmas gifts at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in Castle Shannon on Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. U.S. consumers will again be conservative with spending on holiday gifts this year, according to the National Retail Federation. Frugal gift givers are saving money by making gifts, shopping at dollar and thrift stores and providing free services, such as babysitting. Tory N. Parrish | Tribune-Review

Deanna Mulye refused to enter any store with “mart” in its name when she shopped on Black Friday.

In fact, the North Side resident wouldn't go into any store in which most of the goods hadn't been used before.

Instead, on the busiest shopping day of the year, Mulye, 27, visited a Goodwill store. She bought old books that she will turn into ornaments to give as gifts.

Mulye, who teaches book arts and book binding at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Midland, also uses old shirts and linens she buys from thrift stores to make journals for gifts.

“It's a little more old-fashioned and cost effective” than buying new items, said Muyle, a longtime handicrafter.

Retail experts say the tough economy is spurring more people to cut costs by making their own gifts or shopping at thrift and dollar stores.

According to a November survey of 1,000 people by America's Research Group Ltd. in Summerville, S.C., 27.5 percent said they will give homemade holiday gifts, compared with 14 percent last year.

It's more about tight wallets than rejecting the commercialization of Christmas, said C. Britt Beemer, the survey group's chief executive officer.

“I think it's 100 percent driven by the economy. Consumers have less money, and they are still trying to do something for Christmas, even though they may be making it themselves,” he said.

Becky Maruca, 26, of Ross, an unemployed cabinetmaker, makes wooden ornaments, bottle stoppers and other Christmas gifts for friends and family members. She said she is not motivated by saving money as much as a desire to add a personal touch to her presents.

“Every gift you make, you're giving away a piece of you. It's a much greater gift than going out and buying something,” she said.

Overall, consumers are expected to spend conservatively this year, an average of $749.51 on gifts, décor, greeting cards and more. That's up from $740.57 in 2011, according to the National Retail Federation, a Washington-based trade association.

On the other hand, NARTS: The Association of Resale Professionals, a trade group representing 1,000 thrift and other resale stores, said 35.3 percent of its members reported an increase in sales of holiday items purchased as gifts in 2011 from the year before. The group, based in St. Clair Shores, Mich., uses the NARTS abbreviation instead of the full name it once used, the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops.

NARTS expects an increase in sales for members this year. It conducts an annual survey in January to compile its statistics.

Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania has recorded a 50 percent increase in annual retail sales overall since 2008, not just at Christmas, spokesman David Tobiczyk said.

The nonprofit has 25 stores in the region and partly attributes the increase to doing a better job of getting donated goods on sales floors as soon possible, he said. It has made stores brighter and cleaner; merchandises clothing by size; and opened more stores in higher-income areas, such as Robinson and Richland, which led to donations of higher-quality goods, he said.

“I do more Christmas shopping at Goodwill than anywhere else,” said Ron Bonasso, 59, of Hampton as he shopped in the Ross store. He said the thrift store offers unusual and vintage goods, such as the Marvel Comics figurines that he collects.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul Council of Pittsburgh, a Catholic nonprofit that operates six thrift stores in the Pittsburgh area, has tried to set itself apart from other thrift stores by offering higher-quality goods, and it recycles unusable goods for scrap, said Keith Kondrich, executive director of the Manchester-based organization.

“We always say it's not your father's thrift store,” said Kondrich.

Part of the benefit of shopping at nonprofit thrift stores is that the money goes to support charitable missions, he said.

St. Vincent de Paul's sales benefit the organization's food pantry; provide assistance with utility bills for people in need; and support other programs, he said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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