The data comes from a questionnaire completed by 7,000 people who save or borrow from entities that belong to the Georgia Credit Union Affiliates. Seventy percent plan to pay for their gifts with cash and 12 percent with credit cards, a slight decline from last year's 16 percent plastic users.
That leaves a large group that will borrow, according to Grace Lollar, president of Richmond Community Federal Credit Union in Gracewood, Ga.
"Wages have not risen for most of our membership, but the cost of living has gone up," she said. "Most of our members rely heavily on holiday loans to pay for their purchases."
A separate survey conducted by the National Retail Federation shows the average person nationally plans to spend $750 this holiday season, up ten bucks from last year for a 4.1 percent increase in overall sales. That compares to the Georgia survey where 58 percent say they'll spend less than $500.
That means the overall sales increase is being funded by just a few people, notes Michael Mercer, president of the Credit Union trade group.
"A lot of the global lift in holiday spending is really coming from a very small portion of the population," he said.
Bargain hunting will be the strategy for most people. They'll stick with discount stores, comparison shop with their smartphones as they cruise the aisles and rely to a greater extent on purchases they get online, according to the Retail Federation's data.
"More than half of Americans this holiday season will feel the impact of the economy and will compensate by doing what they've been doing for several years -- looking for ways to cut any corners, comparative shop online and in stores more often, and even planning to travel less or not at all," said the national trade group's president, Matthew Shay.