More than half of the respondents to a CNBC Holiday Central survey expect holiday spending to grow between 1% and 3% this year, which would be the smallest annual increase since 2002, when the U.S. was emerging from recession.
Another 14% see spending growth either remaining the same or falling 1% to 3%. A third of those responding are more optimistic, projecting growth of 4% to 6%.
Last year, holiday spending was up 4.6%.
In written comments, several of those responding to the survey warn against being too pessimistic.
"Time and again, the American consumer has shown great resilience in the face of adversity," says Arun Raha of Swiss Re. "And those who count them out do so at their own peril."
David Dietze of Point View Financial Services argues that the weak U.S. dollar is creating a "red tag sale" for foreign consumers, which will help the nation's retailers.
The money managers, investment strategists and professional economists responding to the survey are divided on what factor will have the biggest impact on consumer spending this year.
Forty-two percent picked home prices, which have been generally weak, while 44% say wages, which have been holding up well. They are also divided on whether tighter credit standards will cause most consumers to pull back on their holiday spending: 44% say yes, 56% say no.