For the third year in a row, our friends at Consumer Reports National Research Center have polled Americans to find some revealing facts about their holiday spending plans. And -- as you might expect -- this year’s picture isn’t entirely pretty.
With the economy in a shambles, 76 percent of those surveyed say they’ll cut back this season. Specifically, they’ll buy fewer gifts; travel, entertain, and tip less; send fewer greeting cards; and scale back on charitable donations.
But wait -- there’s also good news. Despite the penny-pinching, we remain a highly optimistic people. Eighty-eight percent of respondents say these holidays will be at least as happy as last year’s; and 28 percent expect them to be even happier.
The new poll, based on a nationwide survey of 1,001 adults, reveals many other interesting findings …
• Six percent of those surveyed are still paying off debt from last year’s gift purchases. If you do the math, that translates into approximately 12 million Americans who are in hock to credit-card companies for this reason alone.
• Fewer people intend to charge this season’s gift purchases. Half of those surveyed plan to use plastic -- particularly shoppers aged 18 to 34, who usually rely on credit cards more often than older shoppers anyway.
• We still list high-end electronics as among our most-wanted items this season, but plan to buy fewer flat-panel TVs, computers and even digital cameras, as my friends at the Consumer Reports Electronics Blog are noting today.
• Far more consumers are trying to manage their spending. Fifty-nine percent say they plan to stick to a gift “budget;” that’s 17 percent more than last year. However, making a budget and sticking to it are two different things. Forty-four percent of those on a budget last season now admit that they went overboard; 3 percent say they spent way over budget.
• When it comes to cutting back, most respondents -- 59 percent -- intend to give fewer gifts this year. Some 49 percent say they’ll travel less.
• As for who’s getting crossed off the gift list, most respondents (84 percent) say they plan to buy fewer gifts for themselves. About 40 percent will cut back on gifts for friends; 30 percent are cheaping out on service providers (delivery people, hairdressers, manicurists, and the like); and 29 percent will skimp on co-workers.
• Grandchildren, grandparents, and children under age 18, are the least likely to suffer from the gift-giving drought. Pets will fare well, too. Only 23 percent of us say we'll spend less on Fifi and Fido.
• Finally, gift cards are more popular than ever -- despite the fact that we’ve been warning people for years about the billions of dollars in gift card deposits that are never redeemed. Sixty-six percent of us plan to give at least one gift card this year, up from 62 percent last season. But beware. One-quarter of those who received a gift card in 2007 still haven’t used it. The most common reasons: They didn’t have enough time, forgot about the card; couldn’t find anything they wanted; or the card expired and became worthless.
This year, there’s another threat looming to gift-card givers: if the economy drives some retailers into bankruptcy, as is already happening, their gift-card recipients may never be able to reclaim that cash. Consider it a sign of the times.
Whatever gift you choose, I do hope you are among those who have happier holidays despite the storm clouds.