Sensible Santas

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For Americans in the upper-income bracket, this year's Christmas story isn't very different from last year's.

Malls across America will soon be bustling with shoppers in search of the perfect gift. Who will they be shopping for? Kids and spouses, most likely.

An exclusive survey for American Demographics conducted by market research firm Digital Marketing Services reveals that households with annual incomes of $75,000 or more (29 percent of the total population) will spend $1,496 on holiday gifts this year. That's slightly less than Christmas past (1999) when they spent $1,549.

Yet, households with children will actually be spending more - $143 more to be exact. The total spending of middle- to upper-income families with little tykes will be $1,660 - that's $236 more than households sans kiddies, and $164 more than the national average.

Not surprisingly, spending in this income bracket varies according to age. The youngest group (18- to 24-year-olds) will spend the least this season ($1,005), while those just a few years older (25- to 34-year-olds) will spend the most ($1,886).

How will these Americans divvy up the booty? Overall, respondents say the lion's share of this year's holiday funds ($412) will be spent on their partner or spouse. But children (of any age) will still manage to siphon off $331 apiece from the family's holiday stash, and parents will get $216 (numbers two and three, respectively, on the shopping list). Some 38 percent of households in the upper-income bracket have young children living at home. For them, kids will take center stage - and $567 each in gifts. Significant others and parents (allotted $374 and $153, respectively) trail behind, when youngsters enter the picture.

Will this year's gifts be stocking-stuffer chic or stocking-stuffer cheap? As a whole, those surveyed say they'll purchase the greatest percentage of gifts at midrange, mass market retailers such as Macy's and The Gap. Subsequent stops will include discount retailers such as Target and Kohl's; and outlet stores, in that order. Where do the likes of Neiman Marcus and FAO Schwarz rank? Last. Indeed, 49 percent of respondents say they will get the least number of their holiday gifts this year from an upscale, luxury retailer.

Nevertheless, some will splurge and others will skimp. While altogether, only 13 percent of this set say they will make most of their purchases at an upscale retailer, a significantly greater percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds (24 percent) and singles (22 percent) will crowd the counters of such stores. Twenty-eight percent of households with comfortable earnings will look to keep their wallets padded this season by doing most of their shopping at discount retailers. Married folks and those with kids love the savings most, with 31 percent and 36 percent, in that order, claiming they will get the greatest number of gifts from a discount retailer.

All in all, this group plans to use every available shopping outlet: Nearly three-fourths (72 percent) will shop online, 55 percent will order merchandise from a catalog, and 94 percent say they will deck the halls of shopping malls, where they'll have plenty of time to cool their heels - waiting in lines.

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