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What's on shoppers' wish lists for the holidays

  • This year, a third of American consumers plan to spend $501 or more buying gifts, according to a WalletHub survey. That's down 4 percentage points from last year.
  • The personal finance site also found that gift cards, especially from Amazon, Visa and Wal-Mart, are the most desired presents.
Children pose for pictures with Santa Claus at a Sears store during the Family and Friends evening sale inside the Del Amo shopping mall in Torrance, California.
Patrick Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Children pose for pictures with Santa Claus at a Sears store during the Family and Friends evening sale inside the Del Amo shopping mall in Torrance, California.

What's on shoppers' wish lists this year? A smaller credit card bill.

This year, only a third of American consumers plan to spend $501 or more buying gifts, according to personal finance site WalletHub's latest survey. That's down from last year, when 37 percent expected to spend that much.

"Even though the economy is doing well, I think we have a lot of pockets of unemployment and especially, underemployment ," said WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez. "Even if people have jobs, they're not necessarily the best-paying ones."

A separate CreditCards.com survey conducted in October also found that consumers plan to spend less this year.

"Think sweaters, not cellphones," said CreditCard.com analyst Matt Schulz.

Just because shoppers are planning to be more economical doesn't necessarily mean they will be, Gonzalez said.

"Spending more is typically what happens to a lot of consumers around the holidays," she said. "Anytime you go to a crowded mall on Black Friday and see a sale sign or 'zero percent financing' offers, you're at risk."

Simple shopping lists may help. As it turns out, most Americans aren't asking for clothes or electronics. Instead, 4 in 10 hope to unwrap gift cards — especially from Amazon, Visa and Wal-Mart.

"We saw this trend [of increasing popularity of gift cards] rise over the past five years or so," Gonzalez said. "You used to dread getting a gift card, thinking, 'What am I going to do with it?'

"But I think it has a lot to do with the fact that you can use it from home, you can use it whenever you want, and you have a little more leeway in terms of what you're buying with it," she added.

Shoppers who want to give a gift card that's a little more personal might consider using personalized gift platform GiftNow. Shoppers can select a specific item for the recipient, instead of a dollar amount. The recipient will get an email with the gift details and can choose details such as size and color before shipping — or pick a different gift of equal or lesser value.