Holiday Spending for 2006

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Americans are digging into their pockets, or credit cards, preparing to spend $457.4 billion this holiday shopping season, according to the National Research Federation (NRF), with gift cards being bought in record numbers.

This year, according to the American Express 2006 Gift Card Survey, 66 percent of the 1013, 18 years and up, individuals surveyed via telephone, plan to give a card in 2006, compared to last year's 57 percent. Cards are closing in on apparel as the number one item for purchase and have surpassed the other favorites-toys, games and music.

Thirty-two percent of Employees would like a card from the boss in appreciation for a job well done, trailing only cash and checks, according to the three year tracking by American Express on shopping trends.

Relatives will receive cards from 58 percent of buyers, 56 percent will buy them for a friend or acquaintance, 54 percent for a child or child's friend, 43 percent to a service provider, such as a teacher, babysitter or domestic help and 40 percent to parents.

The card trend has also had an effect on manners, with 66 percent not expecting a traditional thank-you, or even an e-mail.

A November survey by Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, the 21st Holiday Survey of retail spending and consumer trends, found that 83 percent of consumers feel secure in their jobs. The lower price housing market did not figure in to 92 percent of consumer's spending plans.

"Consumers have withstood challenges this year from energy costs, slow growth and softness in the housing market, and they continue to be bullish about the economy and their own financial well-being," states vice chairman and national managing principal of Consumer Business practice, Pat Conroy.

Sixty-six percent plan to buy gift cards, an average of 4.6 cards per consumer.

The survey found that 74 percent will shop at discount department stores, 48 percent at traditional department stores and 47 percent of 18-29 year olds now favor the traditional stores.

The NRF's Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch, projects an almost $800 spending average, a 7 percent gain from last year and $99.22 will be spent by consumers on gifts for themselves. The amount spent on family will average $451.34, $85.60 on friends, $22.40 on co-workers and $44.52 on people such as clergy and teachers.

NRF numbers show $24.81 billion is projected for gift card sales, with the average consumer spending $116.51. Tracy Mullen, NRF President and CEO says, "Consumers love gift cards because they take the guessing out of holiday shopping." Retailers like them for their convenience and the small amount of store space they require. The downside is that 50 percent of consumers spend less time shopping, so the money spent on spontaneous gifts is less.

Shoppers should buy from reputable retailers and caution should be taken on internet buying because of possible fraud. Also be very clear about the terms, fees and expiration dates and be sure to keep your receipts.

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