Thrifty holiday shoppers plan to set limits, pay cash

Published: Friday, Nov. 19 2010 8:00 p.m. MST

Crowds shop for holiday gifts at Best Buy in Las Cruces, N.M., in 2009. (Associated Press) Crowds shop for holiday gifts at Best Buy in Las Cruces, N.M., in 2009. (Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — Americans are expected to spend a little more this year for holiday gifts than last year. But they plan to set limits on what they spend for each person, arrange gift exchanges instead of buying for most of their co-workers and friends and pay more often with cash or debit cards than with credit cards.

The National Retail Federation's just-released 2010 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions survey found that 43 percent of consumers will use their debit cards as the primary source of payment, a number 20 percent higher than in 2005. Another 25.7 percent will use cash. And 27.6 say they'll tap into their credit cards and charge gifts. That's the lowest number since 2002, when 26.8 percent said they'd use credit cards.

Meanwhile, consumer-friendly groups are lining up to offer wise-shopping tips, while retailers are pulling out the stops with daily deals — even before Thanksgiving.

The Deseret News is keeping an eye on the holiday action and will provide tips, quirky news and a peek at some of the offers on its holiday blog, Ka-Chingle Bells.

A survey released Thursday by Visa Inc. found that 42 percent of those surveyed plan to draw names and buy for one of a group of friends or coworkers, rather than everyone. And 60 percent said their family and friends will likely decide to set a spending limit for each person on the naughty-nice list, an increase from last year's 53 percent.

To help with the jolly, but judicious, giving, Visa recommends creating a budget and sticking with it — including spending no more than 1.5 percent of household income on holiday gifts and entertainment. It also suggests breaking that down to individual spending limits for each person on the gift list. If you can avoid "panic shopping," those last-minute trips to get something, you'll save money. It also counsels people to consider homemade gifts. And finally, it suggests banding together with family members to help others who are less fortunate.

"The key to giving within a budget is deciding in advance how much you want to spend and sticking with it, said Jason Alderman, personal finance expert and director of Visa's Practical Money Skills for Life program.

The American Financial Services Association Education Foundation is offering shoppers an online worksheet to use before youthey even set foot in a store or hit the virtual shopping cart of cyberspace. The tool tracks not only gifts, but also your outlay for decorations, cards, travel and entertaining. You can print it to take along for help sticking to the budget.

Forrester Research said Thursday that it believes, based on its survey, that U.S. holiday online retail sales will grow 16 percent above that of the 2009 shopping season. And with Cyber Monday coming up Nov. 29 and Free Shipping Day hitting for last-minute folks on Friday, Dec. 17, the group is offering suggestions for shopping safely online. Tips include making sure there's an S next to the HTTP (as in HTTPS) on websites, ensuring credit card numbers and other details are encrypted and watching for the VeriSign Trust Seal check mark that shows Symantec declares a website free from viruses and malware. More tips are on the Ka-Chingle blog, which will be updated often.

Consumers should expect to see a number of online incentives, from free shipping to one-day sales, the foundation says. And it points out that about 10.5 percent of surveyed consumers say they're about half done with their Christmas shopping because of early Black Friday sales and special holiday offers. Last year, that number was 9.1 percent.

e-mail: Lois@desnews.com

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