Santa might be extra generous to some Twin Cities girls and boys.

Local shoppers are feeling more confident about the economy, boosting this year's holiday budgets close to prerecession levels, according to a survey from the University of St. Thomas.

Metro-area buyers will spend $915 million, up 4.6 percent from last year. In 2007, consumers spent $934 million.

"We are not like some regions that have been hit especially hard," said Dave Brennan, co-director of the university's Institute for Retailing Excellence. "The majority of Minnesotans are employed; how long can you expect them to wait until they return to normal spending patterns?"

The university said it saw a turnaround starting in 2010, as local consumers inched spending back up as the economy improved.

Twin Cities residents are expected to spend $703 per household on holiday gifts, up 3.4 percent compared with a year ago, the survey said. Still, the household budget for gifts hasn't quite caught up to 2007 levels, when gift budgets were $751 per household.

During the recession, consumers were fearful of layoffs and declining retirement savings and drastically cut back on gifts. Retailers responded by slashing their prices, but few were willing to take the bait.

Don't expect those same types of discounts this year, analysts said.

"I don't see a return of huge, across-the-board sales this year," said Lorman Lundsten, chairman of the university's marketing department. "I would look for more targeted sales and promotions that will keep people coming into stores."

Retailers will keep inventory low, Lundsten added, and it's possible that there could be shortages of some items.

Consumers surveyed said they would most likely purchase gift cards. Next on the list was clothing and accessories, followed by travel and cash. Consumers said their top places to shop for gifts were the Mall of America, Rosedale Center and Southdale Center.

Already, shoppers are looking at iPads and cashmere robes as potential gifts, said Bridget Jewell, a Mall of America spokeswoman. But she added that consumers are managing their money better.

"Consumers are now being conscious and aware of what they are spending and are willing to spend a little bit more," Jewell said.

The survey was completed in the first week of November and received 358 responses from the Twin Cities metro area. The research was done by Brennan, Lundsten and John Sailors, a specialist in consumer behavior, marketing research, brand equity and loyalty. All three are faculty members at the university's Opus College of Business.

Wendy Lee • 612-673-1712