Three Really Good Reasons to Shop Local FIRST This Holiday SeasonThe holiday shopping season is now in full swing. In an effort to get us into their stores, retail giants have begun to bombard us with advertising, rolling out hot deals left and right.

These days, with so many options available, it's tough to decide where to put our holiday dollars. It can be so easy to get wrapped up in the next big promotion or exciting sales event, but there's one really important detail that retailers like to keep quiet about this time of year: Where you decide to shop has a real impact on your local economy and the environment.

Shopping locally has the power to expand our holiday gift giving beyond simply bringing joy to our loved ones and transform it into a force for the greater good.

Here are three reasons to think local this year:

Local economy. It affects us all. When you choose to spend at the businesses and shops around your neighborhood, the health of your local economy is directly impacted in a positive way.

Studies show that money spent at local businesses generates 3.5 times more wealth for the local economy than the same amount spent at a big box or chain-owned business. This means that your dollars are being funneled right back into the community that you care about.

This, in turn, may contribute to the expansion of existing local businesses or even help a new one get going. Expansion of this kind means more jobs in the community and better quality of life for your neighbors. Plus, a healthy small business district creates a vibrant sense of culture and improves community ties in our neighborhoods.

Eco impact. We all want to minimize the environmental footprint of our holiday festivities and shopping local can go a long way toward accomplishing this goal.

Every year, the U.S. transports over $2.2 trillion worth of products from over 150 countries, resulting in 1 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions. Small, local businesses tend to source materials and manufacture products closer to home. Buying products that are made locally means limiting or eliminating the negative impact that transporting goods long distances has on the environment.

Small businesses are also much more likely to utilize recycled materials in their buildings or products. Plus, shopping and spending at your neighborhood businesses means you are cutting back on the huge amounts of packaging waste generated every year by big box and e-commerce giants. To put it simply, when we shop local, our negative impact on the environment is reduced exponentially.

Higher quality. Shopping local means we end up with better products -- and in more ways than one.

First, locally made products tend to be of a higher quality than items found at big retailers. Why? Because these products actually matter to someone. Whether it's a hand-crafted rocking horse or a carefully stitched tote bag, local and handmade items generally last longer and are made from higher quality materials than their mass-produced counterparts.

Furthermore, local products are safer because they are less likely to contain harmful components like lead paint or be faulty due to careless manufacturing. Small businesses also tend to employ more ethical practices than big corporations. When you shop local, it's comforting to know that the item you're gifting to a loved one was made across town in a clean and safe environment, not across the globe in a factory with questionable ethics.

No matter how you stack it, local equals better. Do yourself and your community a favor, shop local first this holiday season.