Bay shoppers went on a spending frenzy worth more than $368 million last month - the biggest increase in spending in the country.
However, with $155 million spent on credit cards, money experts warned the spree could have long-term effects on household budgets.
Paymark figures show there were 7.25 million transactions in the Bay of Plenty, up 10.5 per cent on December 2014, while $368.8 million was spent in December 2015, an increase of 10.1 per cent over the same timeframe. Spending around the country jumped 8 per cent to $5.493 billion and the Bay of Plenty topped the regions in growth ahead of Marlborough, Auckland, Northland and Southland.
Papamoa Plaza centre manager David Hill said the increase in spend represented the population growth - "we are not drawing more money out of people that can't afford it".
December was a record month and it had an "absolute cracker" start to 2016, he said as the suburb benefited from residential and commercial developments.
Retailers had indicated growth of 10 per cent with some up 20 per cent while "our top performer is up 30 per cent so we have some very happy retailers".
Bayfair centre manager Steve Ellington said it had 700,000 visits in December and initial feedback indicated there would be robust sales growth compared to December 2014 as the average spend was up by 10 per cent during October and November 2015.
Last year was a bumper one for Tauranga and it was well positioned to continue its growth through 2016 and beyond, he said. "It is pleasing to see the region is growing not solely on the back of lifestyle and retirees. We are now seeing Tauranga starting to move into being a city that offers more business and job opportunities on the back of a great climate and beach."
Mount Mainstreet manager Peter Melgren said its retailers were up from 8 to 15 per cent. More people were moving from Auckland, there was money filtering through and the demographics were changing, he said. Fraser Cove centre manager Marie Mischewski said its figures had not been complied yet but she was "very confident we will be up on the previous December".
Downtown Tauranga manager Sally Cooke said its anecdotal feedback had been positive and "there was some good trade happening".
Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Diane Bruin said the rising population combined with the convenience of credit card shopping was reflected in the Paymark data.
However, she acknowledged there was definite confidence in the economy as property values and jobs increased, "which is all welcome".
But credit cards "are a concern as they are so easy to use and harder to pay". Over the past 12 months the total credit card debt of its clients had leaped from $5.12 million to $7.7 million, she said.
On average it would take a person 15 years or $4724 if they only made the minimum repayment on a debt of $2500 and she advised seeking out deals with banks.
"If your credit card is getting out of hand there are always banks offering zero per cent to low interest rates to refinance. We have seen a big reduction in interest costs when clients refinance their credit card and budget to pay it over the 12 month interest free period."