Like the hundreds of people pulling in and out of the Walmart parking lot Thursday afternoon in Carson City, Deborah Wells was on the prowl for a "last minute Santa gift."
Wells, 43, bought a PlayStation 2 for her 9-year-old son, something she had been planning to buy on Christmas Eve - a payday.
She said Christmas in 2009 is leaner than previous years, adding the holiday and a tighter budget have brought out a new side of her child.
"He wants to volunteer this year. .. He's been paying a lot of attention to telling me, 'Mom, don't worry about Christmas presents, I know things are tight," Wells said. "I think the economy, the way it is and how the kids are learning about it and how it's affecting their home, they're coming out of it looking at Christmas a little differently. It's not so selfish this year for him and I'm really happy about that."
Nationwide, shoppers appear to have given the nation's stores a needed last-minute sales surge.
Early readings from Toys R Us, Sears and several mall operators show packed stores on Christmas Eve, fueled by shoppers who delayed buying, waiting for bigger discounts, or slowed by recent snowstorms.
Stores are counting on these stragglers in a season that so far appears slightly better than last year's disaster. The jury is still out, because the week after Christmas accounts for about 15 percent of sales as gift card-toting shoppers return to malls.
"The procrastinators were really out in force," says David Bassuk, managing director in the retail practice of AlixPartners, a global business advisory firm. "A lot of people are still willing to hold out until after Christmas because the deals weren't as good."
Among those last minute shoppers included Debbie Tygart, 55, and brother Toby Kepley who were on a mission Thursday to find a gift for their mother at the Carson City Walmart. Kepley had bought the gift Tygart was planning on giving their mom: a Snuggie.
"Now I'm going to find her dish towels and bath towels and sheets," said Tygart, who started her Christmas shopping on Wednesday.
Kepley said they almost turned around when they approached the congested Walmart parking lot.
"I could imagine what it's going to be like inside," he said. "Wish us luck."
Carlie Martin, 27, and her son Brody, 6, were leaving the store toting a toy rifle that Brody is planning on giving to a friend for Christmas among other odds and ends.
"We are done, absolutely done," Martin said.
Steve Bourne, 27, had a few last-minute items to pick up on Thursday, too.
"We had to wait for payday and decided to do last-minute stuff," Bourne said. "So we're all done now."
He bought pajamas for his 2-year-old son, Evan, and crayons for his nieces, as well as a last minute gift for his wife. Bourne added that this Christmas is being done on a tighter budget, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"We're doing the whole family get-together deal," Bourne said. "That's really the only important thing that we care about now."
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.