Shoppers are already beginning to look a lot like Scrooges this holiday season

It won't take a Scrooge to spoil this holiday season. Americans are already doing a very good job of it themselves, putting the brakes on gift spending -- no matter what offers retailers dangle before them.

An ING Direct (ING) survey of adults found that only 54 percent plan to spend $300 or more on gifts this holiday season, down 10 percentage points from last year. The number planning to spend less than $300 is holding steady. Another 11 percent -- compared with seven percent last year -- said they won't spend a dime.
Retailers have already anticipated the blue Christmas to come and have begun programs to control the damage, since the holidays often account for most of the year's profit at many stores. This week, Sears Holdings brought back the Christmas club at Sears & Kmart stores, hoping to lock in some of the more forward-thinking customers.

The survey found the spending cuts are happening across the board and across the country, in all regions and all age groups. The biggest change was among older Americans, who've seen their retirement nest eggs tank in this recession. Sixty-one percent of Americans 55 and older will spend more than $300, down from 71 percent last year. That means a lot of grandkids will get clothes this year instead of iPods.

So where is that money going? Forty-one percent of those polled say they plan to save more -- good news for ING Direct, which commissioned the poll of 2,047 adults taken last month. Top priorities are building a fund for emergencies (37 percent), paying down debts (35 percent), and funding retirement (34 percent).

And more bad news for retailers: 67 percent said they will continue to save after the economy recovers. So maybe Americans are learning to live within their means and save for the future.

Then again, polls during the last extended recession, in the early 1990s, said many of the same things. And then came the late 90s, and the Internet boom, symbolized by its tech millionaires (and billionaires). American consumers have the best of intentions, but once they have disposable incomes, shopping sprees always follow. Retailers count on that, too.

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