Americans to Give Fewer Gifts This Year

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The holidays are traditionally a time of good will and cheer, but according to a new survey from Citi (Stock Quote: C), Americans aren’t feeling particularly generous this year.

Nearly half, or 45%, of Citi’s survey participants said they were planning to spend less this year than last year, indicating that their plan to cut costs involved buying cheaper gifts and decreasing the number of people to whom they give presents.

According to the survey’s results, 19% plan to spend less than $200 this year, 24% plan to spend $200 to $499 and 21% plan to spend $500 to $999. Only one in four Americans (23%) say they plan to spend more than $1,000 this year.

Notably, even 28% of Americans in the highest income bracket ($150,000 annually or more) said they plan to decrease the amount they spend this holiday season.

“In a lot of ways, given the state of the economy, the results of the survey are unsurprising,” said Jonathan Clements, director of financial education for Citi Personal Wealth Management. “Sixteen months into what we’re told is an economic recovery, Americans are rediscovering financial prudence.”

While Americans plan on saving by hunting for bargains, making homemade gifts and finding unique ways to give back, such as by volunteering, some parts of the country are more determined to get into the holiday spirit than others. According to the survey, southerners plan to spend the most this season, saying they would shell out an average of $987 while holiday shopping. This compares to $917 for the Northeast, $900 for the Midwest and $778 for the West.

When asked about how much they would spend this year compared to 2009, Midwesterners were the least likely to cut back on the number of people they give gifts to (28%), compared with 35% of Westerners, 37% of Northeasterners, and 41% of Southerners.

“The people who were the least generous were the least likely to cut back, while the people who were the most generous were also the most likely to,” Clements explained.

Citi conducted the survey by interviewing 2,001 adults nationwide from Sept. 14 to Sept. 19.

While this is the first time that Citi asked questions specifically about holiday purchases, it has conducted similar consumer spending surveys quarterly since September 2009. Each survey indicated that Americans are reluctant to spend on big-ticket items and that they remain uncomfortable with the level of savings in their bank accounts.

Their most recent spending index released in October, for example, showed that the amount of Americans uncomfortable with their level of debt had reached 38%, up five points since June. Nearly half said they would either avoid shopping altogether or shop only for the things they absolutely needed.

The consistent results indicate that Americans remain pessimistic about the state of our economy (and the job market in particular, where unemployment remains at 9.6%), despite the fact that there have been some improvements during the past few months.

“Americans aren’t getting cheerier about the economy. People are still afraid they are going to lose their jobs,” Clements said. However, he adds, many Americans have also made permanent and lasting changes to their spending habits as a result of the 2008 economic downturn. “People remain deeply scarred from what served as a wake-up call.”

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