6 Percent of Us Are Still Paying Off Last Year’s Holiday Bills

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Shoppers are more cautious and more pessimistic going into the holiday shopping season this year as compared with 2010, according to new research. Maybe that’s a good thing, given that the survey also found 6% of us — 14 million people —are still paying off last year’s holiday splurges.

More than half of respondents to Consumer Reports‘ shopper survey say they plan to stick to a budget this year, up five percentage points from last year. One-third plan to cut back on holiday purchases, and 44% say it’s more important to get a good bargain this year.

In 2010, 53% of us whipped out the credit cards when gift-buying and charged an average of $433. However, the number of us who charged more than $1,000 dropped by seven percentage points to 16% last year.

(RealSimple.comOne-Day Holiday and Christmas Shopping Plan)

Most of us plan to buy clothes this holiday season; 70% of survey respondents say they’re giving apparel as gifts. But we’re not all being practical; 65% say they’ll give electronics like video games, e-readers and MP3 players. Another popular gift: cash, which 55% of respondents say they plan to give. While it’s not as warm-and-fuzzy as other gift ideas out there, cash has one big benefit: You know you’re not going to overspend beyond what you budgeted.

According to the survey results, there’s another way to avoid racking up credit card debt this season: rifle through your drawers and wallets for gift cards and use them to buy gifts. A quarter of survey respondents say they have an unused gift card they received last holiday season, while 55% have two or more unredeemed cards. Just make sure you use the amount on those cards as a budget guideline, because two-thirds of shoppers spend more than the amount on the gift card when they do get around to spending them.

(MORE: The Christmas Shopping Season Now Starts … in September?)

Does this mean we’ve reined in the worst of our overspending? Probably not. Overall, people spent 22% more than they planned to last year on holiday gifts, and nearly half of us who took the effort to set a budget blew through it — some significantly.

MORE: Is the Popularity of Gift Cards on the Decline?