For retailers, who last year took in 24 percent of their revenue between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the cautious approach is coming at a crucial time.
Consumers say they're not in despair because, despite the dreadful headlines, their own fortunes still feel pretty good.
Consumers seem only mildly concerned, not panicked, and many say they remain optimistic about the economy's long-term prospects, even as they do some modest belt-tightening.
I provide a service that people can do without when they're concerned about saving some dollars.
Even before Alan Greenspan's admission that America's red-hot economy is cooling, lots of working folks had already seen signs of the slowdown themselves.
Shortlists for job interviews, election ballot papers, lists of conference speakers and attendees: all tend to be drawn up alphabetically, and their recipients lose interest as they plough through them.
Yet the result may be worse qualifications, because they get less individual attention, as well as less confidence in speaking publicly.
One theory, dreamt up in all the spare time enjoyed by the alphabetically disadvantaged, is that the rot sets in early.
So short-sighted Zysman junior gets stuck in the back row, and is rarely asked the improving questions posed by those insensitive teachers.
Thus the American president and vice-president have surnames starting with B and C respectively; and 26 of George Bush's predecessors (including his father) had surnames in the first half of the alphabet against just 16 in the second half.
Less well known is the advantage that Adam Abbott has in life over Zoë Zysman.
This, for those as yet unaware of such a disadvantage, refers to discrimination against those whose surnames begin with a letter in the lower half of the alphabet.
It has long been known that a taxi firm called AAAA cars has a big advantage over Zodiac cars when customers thumb through their phone directories.
Intellect, according to Hofstadter, is different from native intelligence, a quality we reluctantly admire.
Hofstadter says our country's educational system is in the grips of people who "joyfully and militantly proclaim their hostility to intellect and their eagerness to identify with children who show the least intellectual promise."
"Intellect is resented as a form of power or privilege," writes historian and professor Richard Hofstadter in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, a Pulitzer-Prize winning book on the roots of anti-intellectualism in US politics, religion, and education.
From the beginning of our history, says Hofstadter, our democratic and populist urges have driven us to reject anything that smells of elitism.
Even our schools are where we send our children to get a practical education — not to pursue knowledge for the sake of knowledge.
Ralph Waldo Emerson and other Transcendentalist philosophers thought schooling and rigorous book learning put unnatural restraints on children: "We are shut up in schools and college recitation rooms for 10 or 15 years and come out at last with a bellyful of words and do not know a thing."
Ravitch's latest book, Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms, traces the roots of anti-intellectualism in our schools, concluding they are anything but a counterbalance to the American distaste for intellectual pursuits.
Many consumers seem to have been influenced by stock-market swings, which investors now view as a necessary ingredient to a sustained boom.
Without the ability to think critically, to defend their ideas and understand the ideas of others, they cannot fully participate in our democracy.
Many theories concerning the causes of juvenile delinquency (crimes committed by young people) focus either on the individual or on society as the major contributing influence.
All these conditions tend to increase the probability of a child committing a criminal act, although a direct causal relationship has not yet been established.
Theories focusing on the role of society suggest that children commit crimes in response to their failure to rise above their socioeconomic status, or as a rejection of middle-class values.
Theories centering on the individual suggest that children engage in criminal behavior because they were not sufficiently penalized for previous misdeeds or that they have learned criminal behavior through interaction with others.
More families consist of one-parent households or two working parents; consequently, children are likely to have less supervision at home than was common in the traditional family structure.
For example, changes in the economy that lead to fewer job opportunities for youth and rising unemployment in general make gainful employment increasingly difficult to obtain.
Most theories of juvenile delinquency have focused on children from disadvantaged families, ignoring the fact that children from wealthy homes also commit crimes.
Whorf came to believe in a sort of linguistic determinism which, in its strongest form, states that language imprisons the mind, and that the grammatical patterns in a language can produce far-reaching consequences for the culture of a society.