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Money to Burn? Drive Away in This Pastry

Monday, 12 Oct 2009 | 3:16 PM ET

The economy may be on its way back, but conspicuous consumption is not.

Wealthy Americans may be feeling more cheery and optimistic as the Christmas holiday season approaches, but that doesn't mean they will be doling out extravagant gifts.

Customized Cupcake Car
Source: Neiman Marcus
Customized Cupcake Car

Take the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book. If the catalog, which began as a holiday card for the store's best customers, is any gauge of the luxury market, the high-end is more down-to-earth these days.

This year's batch of fantasy gifts carry more modest price tags. The list also is heavy on experience-based gifts rather than bold displays of opulence.

The most expensive item is a $250,000 Icon A5 sports plane. With its spy-movie wings that rotate up and fold back out of the way, and its ability to land on water or land, the plane is sure to inspire a few fantasies. Still, it's certainly more affordable than last year's high-ticket item: a cutomized golf course that started at $1 million.

But if you feel you have money to burn and still want to show the world, perhaps you should consider ponying up $25,000 to design your own Cupcake Car because nothing says, "I can buy whatever I want" as much as a motorized pastry.

The car will be created by Bay Area artist Lisa Pongrace, who originally designed it as a cooperative art car project at Burning Man, in any topping you choose.

To see all the items in the catalog, check out our slideshow.

In case you are curious, Neiman Marcus does actually sell a few of these fantasy items each year. Even last year, which was one of the worst holiday seasons for retailers in decades, the retailer sold a Viking ring and a $275,000 record collection.

And although it usually sells out of its limited edition car, last year, it did not. This year's car goes on sale at noon on Friday. It is a 2010 Jaguar XJL, and only 50 will be sold.

And if the catalog's contents aren't enough to drive home the message that we're still feeling some shockwaves from last year's financial crisis, American Express Publishing and Harrison Group have put some numbers behind the trend. Their poll of high-net worth Americans show spending will still be restrained this holiday season.

The respondents’ projections of holiday gift-giving volume and spending suggest overall holiday gift purchasing will be down by as much as 15 percent among the affluent and wealthy families that make up the top 10 percent of the U.S. household economic spectrum.

That's far deeper than the projections for overall holiday retail sales, which should fall 1 percent this year, according to the National Retail Federation.

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Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com

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