Summary Box: Shoppers spend more ahead of holidays

OPENING THEIR WALLETS: Americans are earning and spending more, raising hopes for the economy as the holiday shopping season starts.

LAYOFFS SLOWING: Companies are shedding fewer workers. A slowly healing jobs market is boosting wages, providing shoppers with the fuel to spend more.

REASONS FOR CAUTION: Consumers are still reluctant to crank up spending. They are more focused on whittling debt and saving more. High unemployment, lost wealth from the housing crash and hard-to-get loans are forces holding shoppers back from going on buying sprees.