Splurges will be scarce this holiday season

Industry survey shows Americans plan to spend a total of about $924 on gifts and other holiday purchases, up just 3.7% from last year.

By Parija B. Kavilanz, CNNMoney.com senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Americans aren't in the mood to spend extravagantly this holiday season.

Americans will spend an average of $923.36 on holiday gifts, which includes $106.67 on me-too purchases, which are the impulse buys that people make for themselves while they're shopping for gifts. This is up a moderate 3.7 percent from last year, according to NRF's 2007 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey.

Breaking down the budget, the survey showed that consumers on average will spend $469.14 on presents for the family, $90.13 on friends, $22.79 on coworkers and $37.45 on others like teachers and babysitters.

"Shoppers will be a little more conservative with their spending as they become more aware of the softness in the economy," NRF CEO Tracy Mullin, said in a statement.

Given this prevailing sentiment among consumers, retailers will be especially competitive on prices and discounts, she added. To her point, Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, already chopped toy prices in early October.

Does the race start before or after Halloween?

Black Friday, or the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally marks the start of holiday shopping. But not everyone is waiting until then to get started with their gift lists.

The NRF's survey showed that this year 40.3 percent of shoppers will start their holiday shopping even before Halloween. However, a different survey last week from market research firm NPD Group indicated that 40 percent of consumers said they didn't anticipate beginning their holiday shopping until after Thanksgiving.

Regardless of when the gift-buying marathon kicks off, the NRF says that this year's anticipated holiday sales growth of nearly 4 percent will be softer than last year's 4.6 percent increase.

As far as where people will hunt for the best bargains, about 70 percent of consumers polled said they'll shop at discounters like Wal-Mart (Charts, Fortune 500) and Target (Charts, Fortune 500) for the best prices.

Besides price, other factors like customer service and store location will also drive shopping decisions.

Department stores will be another popular choice for gift seekers, and so will Internet shopping.

This year 30.2 percent of consumers will shop online for holiday items, slightly up from 28.9 percent last year, the survey said.

And what are they buying? Gift cards will again dominate the season. The survey said 53.8 percent of consumers want to receive a gift card or gift certificate as a holiday gift.

But consumers also indicated a desire for clothing, CDs, DVDs, videogames, jewelry and home-related goods.

The NRF's survey polled 7,837 consumers from October 2-9, 2007 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.0 percent. Top of page