Have you started Christmas shopping? According to the National Retail Federation, we’re in for historic holiday sales and spending, with about a 4% increase from last year and creating a possible $730 billion in sales.

Living rural and knowing farm income is at least 50% less than what was just six years ago, I see and know small, independent businesses need our support this holiday season and year-round. Farmers and agribusiness drive our economies, whether you live in a big town or rural area.

Who else fuels economic growth? Small businesses. Classified as businesses with 500 or fewer employees, small businesses bring diversity in local inventory when you’re shopping this season.

Want to purchase a unique gift? Be independent and think of your purchases not only supporting the local business but also impacting your community. The people who work in your local economies are the ones who also live and spend in your community.

I think we can all establish our own holiday shopping guidelines before aimless spending.

Stop before you click on the early sale inundating your email inbox.

Pause before you dash out the door to get the Black Friday specials.

Here are some guidelines I try to follow every holiday shopping season.

Set a budget. Cash in envelopes allocates your spending and leave the credit cards at home, I’ve learned the hard way. Americans racked up $1,280 in debt from holiday spending in 2018 and didn’t intend to, according to Magnify Money’s 2018 holiday spending survey showed. Out of that debt, 68% was put on credit cards, which 49% said they will take more than five months to pay off and 62% felt stressed about the debt.

Choose three small businesses at which to spend $50 or more this holiday season. Why? Small businesses employ half of all American workers and account for 65% of net new jobs over the past 17 years, according to the Small Business Administration.

Frequent an independently owned restaurant, coffee shop or bakery when you venture out to shop this holiday season. Why? Independent restaurants return more than two times as much money per dollar of sales than national chain restaurants into your local community, according to the organization, Independent We Stand.

Give experiences over stuff. Ballet or gymnastics class, swimming lessons, trampoline or water park passes, local children’s museum passes, tickets to a game or concert or a family vacation. Your kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews and favorite people in your life value time with you and your loved ones more than the stuff on their Christmas lists. I promise. My husband and I have been doing this for many years now and find more joy in giving and see many memories created in experiences over stuff.

Homemade gifts are often less money and give a gift of meaning. I don’t sew and am not overly creative. I am a tired mom who wants to buy easy gifts. But, I have found I am a more fulfilled gift-giver with homemade gifts. Last year, my girls and I made homemade cocoa mix in jars and gave to others. This year, we’re doing it again and I’ve already bought most of the supplies on sale. We’ve also made homemade bath soaps and birdseed ornaments in past years, all ideas from my creative mother. Homemade gifts take time with some planning. Homemade gifts often can save on spending and everyone enjoys a thoughtful homemade gift. My childhood best friend coined these “gifts from the heart” when we were poor college students.

Establish your own shopping guidelines this holiday season. Rev up your local economy. Give gifts from the heart.

Whatever you decide, your spending can positively impact your community and businesses that surround you.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. Reach her at kpinke@agweek.com or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.

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