Iowa State University experts have the holidays covered

Holiday retail sales

Iowa State experts can talk about expectations for retail sales this holiday season as well as several other holiday topics. Photo by Amy Vinchattle (Larger photo)

AMES, Iowa – The holiday season is fast approaching and several Iowa State University experts are available to comment on everything from shopping to stress to sticking with a diet.

Retail sales and the future of Black Friday

Ron Prescott, Economics/Retail Specialist, 515-294-5862,

Laura Smarandescu, Marketing, 515-509-1906,

It’s not surprising that more stores, such as Macy’s, will be open this year on Thanksgiving Day. Laura Smarandescu, an assistant professor of marketing, says retailers see a demand from shoppers who want to take advantage of a day off or do not want to shop at midnight or 5 a.m. to get a deal. However, she does not see this as a threat to the traditional Black Friday. She says stores will still offer Black Friday sales, which are spiked by the notion that there is a limited window of opportunity to get the best deals.

“The thing about the Black Friday consumer is that the second they leave their home to get a deal, they are committed to making other purchases in the event that deal would not be there anymore,” Smarandescu said. “This sense of urgency will not exist on Thanksgiving Day, as a better deal could always be waiting later.”

Smarandescu can also talk about other marketing strategies retailers use during the holidays.

The National Retail Federation is projecting a 3.9 percent increase this year in holiday sales. However, Ron Prescott, a retail and small business specialist, expects sales in Iowa to be lower than the national average.

“Here in Iowa, we’ll probably see about a 3.2 percent increase in sales,” Prescott said. “The economy is plugging along, we’re keeping up with inflation. It’s nothing to get too terribly excited about, but it’s not going to be a depressing holiday season either for retailers.”  

Prescott says more consumers are getting an early start on their holiday shopping to take advantage of layaway programs that many retailers offer. He can also talk about seasonal hiring, the continued growth in online shopping and why the government shutdown will have little impact on retail sales.

Sticking to your holiday budget

Jonathan Fox, Financial Counseling Clinic, 515-294-6993,

Retailers hope Black Friday deals and deep discounts will entice shoppers to spend this holiday season. That’s why Jonathan Fox, director of the ISU Financial Counseling Clinic and Ruth Whipp Sherwin professor in human development and family studies, encourages shoppers to build a budget and stick to it. He offers these tips to make the most of your budget:

  • Start early and take advantage of deals; you’ll be less likely to splurge at the last minute.
  • Communicate gift expectations with family and friends. Set price limits or find low-to-no cost gifts, such as a coupon for an hour of free child care.  
  • Look for and take advantage of free shipping when shopping online.
  • Stick to the gift list and avoid buying gifts for yourself during the holidays.
  • Purchase with cash and not plastic.

“If it’s a gift or a set of gifts that you’re going to end up financing and paying off on an installment basis, then I flat out don’t think it’s a necessary gift,” Fox said. “None of your loved ones want you to be in additional debt or any debt. You’re not being cheap, you’re being wise.”

However, Fox can also talk about when it is a good idea to take advantage of in-store credit card offers this holiday season.

Handling stress and family obligations

Nathaniel Wade, psychology, 515-294-1455,

All the holiday parties and festivities can make this a stressful time for anyone. Nathaniel Wade, an assistant professor of psychology and director of Network Community Counseling Services at Iowa State, recommends budgeting your time like you budget your money for holiday gifts. Limit activities or avoid cramming several family events into a short time frame so that you enjoy the time spent at each one. 

The stress from all the hustle and bustle aside, Wade said the holidays are generally a cheerful time, but not for everyone.

“There are people who have lost loved ones and grief is difficult during holidays,” Wade said. “There are other people who have to be around family and their family is a significant source of stress instead of a source of support.”

Wade says working with a therapist, or on your own, to develop a strategy for dealing with those painful memories or family confrontations can be helpful. Simply understanding that the holidays can trigger feelings or stir up issues will prevent people from being caught off guard by their emotions.

Wade can talk about specific strategies for dealing with family issues and grief.

Sticking with a diet and exercise routine

Ruth Litchfield, food science and human nutrition, 515-294-9484,

Diet and exercise are always popular New Year’s resolutions, but Ruth Litchfield says eating sensibly and finding fun ways to exercise during the holidays can eliminate the need for such resolutions. Litchfield, an associate professor and associate chair of food science and human nutrition, has these tips to avoid overindulging during the holidays.

  • Focus on special holiday foods. Before attending a holiday party, identify one special holiday food that you will splurge on and stick to just one serving. Declaring that you won’t eat any fudge or divinity will only leave you feeling deprived and increases your chances of overeating.
  • Use a plate.  Your choices may not reflect MyPlate, but using a plate will make you more aware of how much you are eating.  If you graze from the table or napkin, you’ll tend to eat more.  Sit down with your plate if at all possible.
  • Holiday celebrations are more than just food and there are several non-food activities that make this a special time. Hunting for the perfect tree, ice skating, building a snow man, decorating the house, shopping (not online but walking store to store), caroling, sledding, and yes, even cleaning the house for friends and loved ones will help burn rather than consume calories. Or get outside and go for a walk to relieve stress and exercise your dog.

Litchfield can also talk about good rules, even apps for your smart phone, for handling holiday leftovers.