That sentiment was picked up by a National Retail Federation poll this month.

Consumers said they expect to spend about $738 on holiday shopping, or 2 percent less than they spent last year. Nearly a third said political gridlock over budget issues would affect their spending.

The retail group — whose separate forecast calls for a 3.9 percent increase in holiday spending compared to the 4.1 percent prediction last year — expressed disappointment that lawmakers didn't reach a long-term budget deal.

"As we head into the holiday shopping season, retailers and consumers need stability and certainty from policymakers in Washington and assurance that the economy will not implode due to their actions or more important, lack thereof," CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement.

Auto sales in Maryland started to stall in late September due to the potential for a shutdown, after what had been a strong year, said Peter Kitzmiller, president of the Maryland Automobile Dealers Association. October "hasn't been very good at all," he said.

Kitzmiller is concerned that the prospect of another shutdown might keep government contractors and federal workers from spending money. "It doesn't bode well if this thing keeps hanging out there," he said.

Amanda Coleman, general manager at Nelson Coleman Jewelers in Towson, said she watched the shutdown drama unfold and is concerned that it might not be over.

"If people are not confident in our government and there is a lack of consumer confidence, it is going to hurt the retail season," she said.

Economic uncertainty last year caused customers to rein in spending, Coleman recalled. The jeweler added more inexpensive items to cater to those with smaller budgets and now has expanded those offerings, she said. Customers can buy sterling silver rings and pendants for less than $25.

Dunlap, who plans to hand out the holiday IOUs, is also frustrated with lawmakers.

"We don't know what [legislators] are going to do in January. A lot of people will be trying to recover from this," said Dunlap. "Unfortunately, this is a horrible time to do this. There are so many that haven't recovered from the recession."

The shutdown did reveal that many federal workers and contractors are living paycheck to paycheck. That's due to a combination of factors, including stagnant wages, the high cost of living in certain parts of Maryland and the fact that Americans generally are poor savers, experts said.

Economist Irani said federal workers need to put aside money in a "rainy day fund or shutdown fund."

Bethesda financial planner Arthur Stein said he typically recommends that nongovernment workers set aside six to 12 months' worth of living expenses for emergencies, while federal workers put away half that amount.

But things have changed. "We have gone from a situation where [federal workers] had the highest job security to a situation where that's no longer true," said Stein, whose client list is heavy with current and former federal workers

Given that, Stein said, he is going to start advising federal workers to save as much as his other clients.

"Which is too bad. That's money that will end up sitting in a money market fund or CDs and not getting much of a rate of return," he said. "It's a high price to pay."

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com