Holiday spending reached the highest level on record last year, but that news isn't as good as it sounds.
The $462 billion in holiday spending reported by a trade group on Friday handily tops the $453 billion peak reached in 2007, before the economy took a nosedive. Take a closer look, though, and you'll find these figures don't tell the whole story.
Just because Americans spent more this holiday season doesn't mean they bought more. That button-down shirt you bought your father in 2010 probably cost more than it would have three years ago. But the government figures on which the National Retail Federation bases its holiday sum do not take into account rising prices. Although inflation has been tame over the past few years, holiday spending would have had to clear $478 billion to signify spending was back to pre-recession levels.
That's not all.
The population of the U.S. has grown by 8 million people since the previous record was set. That means there were millions more shoppers in stores this Christmas, driving up the sales total. But the average spending per person is still lower than it was a few years ago, suggesting consumers are still slower to pull out their wallets.