Holiday shoppers plan to deck the halls and splurge a bit more on themselves this year, but overall spending will remain cautious this holiday season as shoppers hunt out the bargains they know they'll find this time of year, according to the results of a new survey.
The average holiday shopper will spend $749.51 on gifts, décor, greeting cards and more, up slightly from the $740.57 they actually spent last year, according to the survey conducted by BIGinsight for the National Retail Federation.
"We've seen this pattern of cautious optimism all year and despite the challenges that still exist in our economy, it looks as if consumers are eager to celebrate with friends and family, " said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation.
Recently, the NRF forecasted that holiday spending would rise 4.1 percent, slower than last year's growth, but higher than the average gains over the past 10 years. (Read More: Retail Trade Group Sees Sales Up 4.1% )
'One for You, Two for Me'
This year, holiday shoppers are looking to treat themselves, according to the survey. Six in ten shoppers, the most in the survey's history, plan to spend an average of $139.92 on "self-gifting" this holiday season. The trend is even more pronounced among young adults between 18 years old and 24 years old, about 71.5 percent of those in this age group are planning to buy gifts for themselves.
"It looks like young adults have the 'one for you, two for me' mentality about the holiday season this year, which is surprising, given that this is also the age group that typically doesn't have the income or ability to splurge, " said Pam Goodfellow, director of BIGinsights Consumer Insights division.
But it does make sense when you consider that retailers have conditioned shoppers to expect great deals on products during the holiday season. Consumers have been working hard over the past four years to hone skills to help them stretch their dollars and are likely taking advantage of the promotions, which have already started far ahead of Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving that has traditionally been considered to be the start of the holiday shopping season.
Waiting to begin holiday shopping until after Thanksgiving is a tradition that clearly has been broken. About 41.4 percent of 8, 899 consumers polled in early October told NRF that they will begin their holiday shopping before Halloween. (For More: Despite the Scorn, Consumers Embrace Christmas Creep )
Although the NRF didn't cite specific reasons why shoppers are starting their shopping early, retailers have been offering many incentives to get shoppers in the buying mood. Not only have stores such as Wal-Mart, Sears and Toys 'R Us offered layaway programs, but there also were lots of promotions being offered as early as Labor Day weekend.
Stretching out the holiday shopping period also is a good strategy for more budget conscious shoppers who want cut any corners they can, comparison shop and spread out their purchases to soften the blow of holiday spending, and avoid the hangover of Christmas debt.
Retailers are pulling out the stops to get shoppers into the store early.Target began running its holiday ads this week, and it joined others such as Best Buy and Toys 'R Us in offering price matching guarantees. (For More: Target Gets Jump on the Holidays With Price-Matching)
Economy Less of a Factor
Although these kinds of tactics may not move the needle significantly, it may make some more cautious customers feel more confident about making those purchases early.
This year, fewer shoppers in the NRF survey cited the economy as a factor in their spending plans, but the number remains high. Some 52.3 percent said the state of the U.S. economy would affect their spending, down from 62.2 percent last year.
That may reflect that consumers are simply accustomed to living on a budget and watching their spending, and may be better prepared for holiday spending.
According to the survey, the biggest portion of the holiday budget will go towards gifts for family members, with the average person planning to spend $421.82 on their kids, parents, and other family members. About $75.13 will be allocated to friends, $23.48 on co-workers, and $28.13 on others, including their pets and members of their community.
'O Christmas Tree'
And don't forget the decorations. Consumers are looking to be festive this year, and are pulling out the stops on décor. The average person will spend $51.99, up from $49.15 last year, and the most in the survey's history. That means total spending on décor could reach $6.9 billion.
More shopping than ever will occur online, as has been the trend in recent years. More than half of all shoppers will do a portion of their shopping online, up from 46.7 percent last year.
And the most-wanted gift of all? Gift cards. Some 59.8 percent of those surveyed want to receive a gift card, more than other popular gifts such as clothing, books, DVDs, videogames and electronics. Nearly one quarter want jewelry, the highest response for this category since 2008.
-By Christina Cheddar Berk, CNBC.com News EditorQuestions? Comments? Email us at email@example.com. Follow Christina Cheddar Berk on Twitter @ccheddarberk.