Metairie — Everyone has his or her own reason for waiting until the last minute to start Christmas shopping. For Albert Springer, it was to avoid an upset stomach.

The Metairie resident began making his purchases Monday morning at Lakeside Shopping Center. It might have been long after most other people did their shopping during the bustle of Black Friday, but that was the point.

“I guess there was no guarantee I’d find everything. But at least I know what I wasn’t getting: indigestion,” he said as he carried bags filled with clothes and small electronics.

The scene at the mall on Christmas Eve day was a far cry from this time last month, when many stores chose to open while some people were still digesting Thanksgiving Dinner.

There were no drivers on the hunt for elusive parking spots, as there were plenty to be found. Anyone who was worried about having to fight through thick crowds had nothing to worry about, as the customer base appeared to be that of an average weekend.

“It’s been a nice experience,” said Shelly Monroe, of New Orleans. The mother of three said she always does her shopping early but got delayed this year. It was a bit nerve-wracking to buy gifts only hours before it was time to swap them, she said, but the freedom to move about without being jostled among other shoppers was enough to lower her stress levels.

“I’m not sure I’d cut it this close again (next year), but maybe later is better. It’s definitely calmer,” Monroe said.

Lakeside’s marketing director said the crowds early Monday were consistent with previous years. He said he expected the crowds to peak sometime in the late morning before they fell off as it got closer to closing time.

While crowds locally appeared to be at their regular levels, consumers across the country didn’t spend as much this year as in previous holiday shopping seasons.

After a strong Black Friday weekend, the four-day weekend that starts on Thanksgiving, when sales rose 2.7 percent, the lull that usually follows has been even more pronounced.

Sales fell 4.3 percent for the week ended Dec. 15, according to the latest figures from ShopperTrak, which counts foot traffic and its own proprietary sales numbers from 40,000 retail outlets across the country. On Wednesday, ShopperTrak cut its forecast for holiday spending down to 2.5 percent growth — to $257.7 billion, from prior expectations of a 3.3 percent rise.

Some analysts blame the reduced spending on concerns about the economy and the aftermath of shootings and storms.

Shoppers are increasingly worried about the “fiscal cliff” deadline — the possibility that a stalemate between Congress and the White House over the U.S. budget could trigger a series of tax increases and spending cuts starting Jan. 1

The recent Newtown, Conn., school shooting also dampened shoppers’ spirits atop the fall’s retail woes after Hurricane Sandy’s passage up the East Coast.

Regardless of overall spending and attitudes across the country, Springer said he did his part to help bolster the final figures.

“The credit card bill will prove that,” he said.

The Associated Press

contributed to this report.