Initial forecasts for retail spending during the holidays anticipate higher spending levels. Last year, according to Deloitte, total retail spending for the holidays increased 3.6 percent, in-line with the growth rate in 2015. And this year Deloitte expects retail spending to increase 4.5 percent given rising disposable personal income levels, increasing revolving credit levels, and elevated consumer confidence figures.

It appears the retailers are also anticipating a big holiday season. Walmart is reportedly tripling its online assortment of products for the holiday season. In an effort to compete with Amazon’s Prime two-day delivery offering, for the first time Walmart is offering free two-day shipping on any purchase over $35.

Additionally, as part of Walmart’s marketing campaign for the Holiday’s, the company will actually be hosting more than 20,000 in-store parties at its supercenters leading up to Christmas. At the product parties, customers will receive product demos, special gift giving guides and toy catalogs. During the party, kids will be able to take selfies with Santa. 

One of the most sought after, and most pricey, holiday season gadgets that consumers have already been clamoring for is Apple’s long-awaited iPhone X, a souped-up version of prior iPhone models. At a starting price of $999, there goes your whole Christmas budget. Consumers don’t seem deterred by the price as initial demand for the iPhone X was so strong that Apple was reportedly forced to go back to suppliers and ask them the double their production capacity of the phone. 

But the iPhone X is not the only tech device that will be high on people’s list this year. Amazon continues to introduce next generation Alexa-enabled Echo devices.  If you feel there are too many Echo devices to keep up with you may be right. Currently the Amazon Echo family includes the legacy Echo, the Echo Plus, the Echo Dot which is not to be confused with the Echo Spot, Echo Buttons, and the Echo Show. Got all that?  The prices for the Echo devices range from $49.99 for the Echo Dot to $229 for the Echo Show. It’s clear that Amazon’s strategy is not to create one Echo device that serves all needs, but to create a number of micro-devices that cater to the different needs of various consumers.

Google also offers its own smart-home audio-enabled devices through its Google Home product suite. However, perhaps Google’s most exciting tech device is its Google “Daydream” View virtual reality headset. Priced affordably at $99, the headset device works with android smart phones (sorry iPhone users) to create visually stunning virtual experiences such as flying through space, getting virtual walkthroughs of famous museums and foreign cities, or other experiences through YouTube’s virtual reality channel.

Contributing to the upbeat outlook for consumer spending has been improving U.S. housing trends. New home sales for September were stronger than the most bullish expectation on Wall Street and the strongest level of monthly sales since October 2007. Also, housing formation figures for millennials. Burdened by the record level of student debt, millennials have been hesitant to take on a mortgage and purchase their first home. However, according to Home Depot, millennials appear to be transitioning out of their parent’s basement and into their own homes. Home Depot reported that during the second quarter of its fiscal year, the company served over 400,000 first-time homebuyers, an 11 percent increase from the prior year and the highest number of customers in this category since 2005.

A rising proportion of first-time home buyers has historically been a catalyst for consumer spending across a multitude of product categories. First-time home buyers typically purchase less expensive homes that have a greater need of repairs and remodeling. And of course, many first time millennial home buyers are having babies. And Christmas gift giving is always overindulgent when it comes to babies and young children.

Yet while the home market remains hot across the U.S. for economic and demographic reasons, for the Texas coast in particular, homebuilding is an increased area of interest for a different reason. The havoc brought on by Hurricane Harvey will be felt by communities along the Texas coast for a long time. Many homes were lost and families were displaced. As the national media has  largely moved beyond the stories of Harvey’s devastation, when thinking about holiday gifts to give to friends and loved ones impacted by the hurricane, consider giving them the gift of your time by helping them with whatever recovery efforts have yet to complete, or start for that matter. One of the greatest personal gifts you can give someone is giving them your time, attention, and love in their time of need.

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Jeanie Wyatt

Jeanie Wyatt is the founder, chief executive officer and chief investment officer of South Texas Money Management.