With Christmas right around the corner, the holiday shopping season will be racheting up as last minute shoppers -- or in some cases, habitual procrastinators -- head to the stores to check off items on Santa's wish list.

While the season puts many of us in a festive mood, it's one of the busiest times of the year for retailers, especially locally owned stores who rely on robust year-end sales to carry them through the leaner months.

This year, make a commitment to "shop local." Keep your money in your community, spending your shopping dollars with local businesses.

There are plenty of reasons to do so: Virtually every community has local retailers. Visiting them first, before heading to a big-box outlet, can save your time and travel costs. While they may not be able to stock some of the items carried by larger chain retailers, you may be pleasantly surprised at what they have to offer -- or will be able to order for you in time for Christmas.

Another good reason to shop locally is that the money you invest in a mom-and-pop retailer is returned to your community in the form of the local taxes they pay, the jobs that they create for other local residents and the support that so many of them generously offer for local events and projects. The people behind the counter at a locally owned store are more likely to know you, more likely to have children in school with yours, more likely to appreciate your return business than those without a stake in your community. Doing your shopping online may be convenient, but online sales generate no local revenue.

Consider taking part in the 3/50 Project, a grassroots initiative that came into being in 2009 to support locally owned businesses. Think of three locally owned stores that you wouldn't want to see go away and spend a combined $50 at them. It's estimated that for every $100 spent at locally owned stores, $68 remains in the community. That's not a bad return on an investment.

If you haven't visited your downtown area in awhile, make it a point do so this season. Locally owned retailers deserve your support. It may be a bit more challenging to do all of your Christmas shopping locally, but it's do-able. Give it a try.