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While Thanksgiving day involves eating turkey and watching football, many people are also taking the time to make shopping lists in preparation for one of the year's biggest shopping days.

Retailers are also busy preparing. Some malls are serving coffee and donuts, others will have dancing Santas lead early-morning shoppers in aerobics.

One of my favorite plans to lure shoppers is sponsored by Target; you can sign up for a Friday morning (recorded) wake-up call from model Heidi Klumn, rapper Ice-T and others.

All of this goes to show how important Black Friday is for retailers. Their urgency is well-founded: almost 25 percent of their yearly sales happen in November and December.

The good news for retailers is that despite rising interest rates, gas and heating prices, shoppers are gearing up to spend a little more than they did last year.

Total holiday spending is estimated to reach $219.9 billion. Most surveys show the average American will spend between $700 and $800 this season, although some surveys pin that number at over a $1,000.

Here is the typical holiday budget breakdown, as found by the National Retail Federation.

  • Gifts for family: $407
  • Gifts for friends: $71
  • Other gifts (teachers, etc): $41
  • Gifts for co-workers: $22

    Wait a minute, you may be thinking, that doesn't add up to $700 or $800. Exactly. Holiday "extras" such as cards, stamps, wrapping paper and party food really add up.

    Some people may forget to figure these items into their holiday budgets, and that's a big mistake. Take a look:

  • Candy/food: $84
  • Decorations: $36
  • Cards/postage: $25
  • Flowers: $16

    Again, remember that all of the above numbers are nationwide averages - some people will spend much, much more.

    The National Retail Federation also found that when people hit the stores for their holiday shopping, they're not just buying gifts to put under the tree. Over half of shoppers spend at least $90 on themselves! (Apparently it's hard to resist all of those sales.)

    Men and young adults spend the most on themselves. So women - beware of the men in your life offering to do some of the holiday gift buying.

    If you're heading to the stores Friday, wondering what to buy, remember that books, CDs, DVDs, videos and video games remain the most popular gifts.

    Here is a list, in order, of what consumers say they would most like to receive this holiday season.

  • Books, CDs, DVDs
  • Clothing/accessories
  • Gift cards (an interesting note: a survey found that 8 in 10 women would prefer a gift card instead of a traditional holiday gift. Many of them reported being disappointed over the years by a gift given to them by a husband, father, or brother.)
  • Electronics
  • Jewelry
  • Home decor items

    There's no end in sight to the increased popularity of gift cards. Seventy-three percent of shoppers say they intend to buy and give the cards this year.

    Last year, there were lots of stories about the hidden costs associated with gift cards. As a matter of fact, on our Thanksgiving show we divulged the high number of cards that began charging $1-$2 monthly "maintenance fees" or non-use fees after a certain period of time, cards that charged a high fee to replace if lost, and a number of cards that actually expired.

    There was a huge public outcry when the extent of this practice became known. More than 80 pieces of legislation limiting fees and expiration dates were proposed, and several states have enacted laws governing gift cards. A year later, many retailers have really cleaned up their acts. The number of stores charging dormancy or other fees has drastically reduced. However, always ask about potential fees and expiration dates, because many stores still do not disclose this information when you buy a card.

    While gift cards from individual retailers have become more consumer-friendly, gift cards offered by banks have not.

    Over the past couple of years, more and more financial institutions have begun promoting cards with MasterCard and Visa logos. American Express and Discover also offer their own versions of gift cards. On the surface, such gift cards seem far superior to those offered by individual stores because you can spend them practically anywhere you wish. However, Consumer Reports found that all of these bank gift cards appear to be chock full of fees:


    • You'll spend anywhere from $3.95 - $11.95 to simply buy the card. That means a $50 gift card may actually cost as much as $61.95.

    • Monthly maintenance fees run $1.25 - $4.95; some kick in as early as 6 months after purchase if the card has not yet been used.

    • Replacement fees for a lost card cost was $5.95 - $10.

    • Finally, if you want to "cash out" the remaining money on your card, you'll have to pay $10 - $15.

    Based on these fees, particularly the upfront fee you have to shell out simply to buy the cards,you're better off buying a gift card from an individual retailer and avoiding these bank cards. If you don't want to chain the recipient to one store, consider giving cash instead. It's accepted everywhere, and never expires!

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